Of the many moments Karen Rogers remembers about Kim King, two keep coming back.
The first was King’s disbelief when Rogers invited her, an Army veteran who was overcoming depression and alcohol abuse, to bike to Albany to promote recovery.
The second is how King seemed to relax on the grueling 400-mile ride, and how she kept talking about the experience long after returning home.
“All she would do is talk about how it changed her life,” said Rogers, the founder and owner of Exercise Express, which along with ROCovery Fitness organized local participants to pedal from Buffalo to Albany in 2018 for the New York State Recovery Conference.
“When she was on the ride, she no longer heard the sounds from her PTSD,” Rogers said. “The thing she remembered so much about the ride was she could hear the birds chirping. That’s what she would always say.”
King, 56, recently died by suicide.
Rogers, with the blessing of King’s family, has scheduled a memorial bike ride at 6 p.m. July 12 from Exercise Express at 200 West Ave. to Genesee Valley Park and along the Erie Canal trail to Chili Avenue to raise awareness of mental health issues and the exacerbating role of the pandemic.
“One thing her family said was, ‘Karen, had it not been for COVID, she could come to (Exercise Express) and it wouldn’t have been closed,” Rogers said. “We have to do something to honor her. We loved her. All those people who rode with her, we fell in love with her.”
Julie King, Kim King’s sister-in-law and spokesperson for the family, said she knows many people who have addiction and mental illness.
“It’s so hard to overcome each separately and to have it together,” she said. “I really feel like Kim would still be here if it wasn’t for COVID. I think that played a huge role because if she would’ve stayed with Exercise Express in the biking I think she would have continued to excel. COVID hit and then she was isolated and alone again. … If I could prevent even one other person from doing what Kim did or helping them to recover, it would be important to me.”
Rogers met King when Exercise Express shared a building with several human-service businesses. King was a client of one of those businesses and found her way to the Exercise Express studio.
“She saw the bikes and said, ‘I like to ride,’” Rogers said.
King took classes at Exercise Express and received a bike donated by R Community Bikes.
Rogers then asked King if she wanted to join a group that would ride across the state. King declined, saying she didn’t have the right bike for the journey or the money to pay for it. Rogers told her she’d get a suitable bike and expenses would be covered.
“ ‘You’re going to come with me,’ Rogers recalled. “She was like, ‘OK.’ There were nine of us. And we did it. We all did it. It took five days, but we did it.”
Julie King said her sister-in-law struggled with depression and anxiety for much of her life. She was successful in the Army, but in civilian life she suffered deep personal losses.
Biking seemed to help her find a place.
“Every day she’d go there and help set up,” Julie King said. “And she got so involved and then the bike ride from Buffalo to Albany. That just meant so much to her. … That’s the important part — having something important in your life to drown out all the other stuff.”
King said many people are suffering. “It seems like there’s more depression and mental illness now than there ever has been. Or at least maybe now we’re just recognizing it more.”
The risk of suicide during a pandemic include isolation, fear, marginalization, psychological disorders, economic fallout and domestic abuse, according to Johns Hopkins Psychiatry Guide.
Research has not shown a significant increase in suicide worldwide from Jan. 1, 2019 to July 31, 2020, according to the medical journal The Lancet. But the authors said the situation could change with long-term mental health and economic effects.
“People who don’t have mental illness and depression can’t understand,” Julie King said. “You know how people are always saying, how could someone take their life, but I guess if you’re in that moment.
“… So if Karen can get that message out and even save one person,” Julie King said. “If we can find ways to help these people to see the light at the end of the tunnel or give them some hope, that’s very important.”