Pedaling through the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming with a cool breeze against his face, Justin Mauser, M’18, couldn’t help but reflect on his journey to medical school.
“Sometimes people think they can’t clear their mind while engaged in a physical activity,” he says. “But surrounded by all that beauty in wide open spaces, it was very meditative.”
Mauser spent two weeks in August on a self-supported bike tour along the Continental Divide Trail to raise funds and awareness for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He and a friend, Cedric Bosch, traveled by bicycle for about 900 miles from Dillon, Montana, to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. He returned to northern Virginia, where he is completing his fourth-year of medical school at the School of Medicine’s Inova Fairfax Campus, on Aug. 20.
“Suicide is taboo and frightening; people don’t necessarily want to talk about it,” Mauser says. “It’s important to bring more awareness to suicide and let anyone who might be headed down that road know there is a network of support for them.”
Mauser’s “Mind Over Mountains” tour is his second major bike trip. In 2011, he trekked from Bar Harbor, Maine, to his alma mater, the University of Arizona in Tucson. The ride raised more than $8,000 for Make-A-Wish Foundation of Arizona.
“It’s rewarding to turn these rides into something that benefits others,” he says.
Growing up in Tucson, Mauser always wanted to be a doctor. But he wasn’t sure he would ever reach his goal. He was denied admission to medical school twice before he was accepted to VCU.
“I tell people all the time to never give up on their dreams,” he says. “Keep working toward your goal. I hope I can motivate others.”
On reflection, Mauser realizes the wait was beneficial. It gave him time to earn his EMT certification, to volunteer in hospice and work as a hospital scribe.
“The amount of growth I’ve seen in myself has been incredible,” he says. “I realize that when you step in a room you can have a big impact on the health of a patient – whether you are brightening their day with a joke or helping them feel better through medicine. It’s gratifying to see their improvement.”
His bike tours have also helped him connect with people. On his recent ride, he met a group of bikers while seeking refuge at a church in Pinedale, Wyoming. Some had come from as far away as Italy, Ireland and Great Britain to conquer the Continental Divide Mountain biking Trail.
“We rode together for a few days,” Mauser says. “It was amazing to meet others from around the world and form a bond with them. It was like we knew each other for years after less than a week.”
During his rides he has also noted how making time for meditation, eating healthy foods and getting plenty of sleep improved his mood. He hopes to share his findings with his classmates as part of the Getting Progressively Stronger Student Wellness program.
“I’m so proud of Justin,” says Homan Wai, M.D., director of the Student Wellness program. “Having a passion and sticking to it is a great lesson for us all. We want our students to be humanistic, to have that inner passion to help people.”
Justin Mauser’s bike tour raised about $2,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For more information about the nonprofit, visit www.afsp.org. The foundation also offers a hotline for people in crisis, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Mauser is already looking forward to his next ride, wherever it may take him.
“I ride to not only expand my own horizons and challenge myself, but to turn that challenge into something bigger than myself,” he says. “If I can do something that raises awareness of a serious issue, it’s so much more powerful.”
By Janet Showalter