There’s a long and winding road ahead for two NZ Police officers and one firefighter who will next week set out on a 1,000km bike ride to spread the message that ‘It’s OK to not be OK’.
The It’s OK Ride will take Constables James Cox and Cameron Macdonald, from Waitematā, Cam’s firefighter father, Craig, and a support vehicle across the North Island, from Cape Egmont to East Cape.
They start their journey on Friday 25 March and aim to finish on 8 April, stopping at police, fire and ambulance stations along the way. If other cyclists wish to join them for a stretch – that’s more than OK, the trio say.
The ride is to raise awareness of PTSD among emergency responders, and encourage conversations where people might otherwise bottle up hurt arising from their job.
They are also raising funds for Te Kiwi Māia (‘The Courageous Kiwi’), a charity which provides rehabilitation, recovery and respite to emergency and defence personnel with physical or psychological injuries arising from their role.
The trio have their own reasons for making the ride, the idea for which arose during a casual bike ride by James and Craig, his Police partner’s father.
James was a wingmate of Constable Matthew Hunt, who was killed in 2020 after he and his Police partner approached gang member, Eli Epiha, following a car crash in Auckland.
Epiha, who had been speeding away from traffic police shortly before the crash, opened fire as the officers approached to help.
Constable Hunt’s murder marked the first time a NZ Police officer had died in the line of duty since 2009.
The trauma of his senseless murder was on James’ mind when the idea for the mammoth bike ride formed.
James grew up in a Police family – his father Phillip is a senior sergeant in Auckland – and says he has seen the tendency among staff to be “staunch”.
“If you hold it in you get angry and can’t deal with the job or personal things,” he says.
“Most of us have been there but you must never feel you’re on your own. We’re a team and we need to share and work as a team. My aim is to start that conversation – it’s OK to cry, to say what you’re feeling.”
Cam, a volunteer firefighter for four years before joining Police in 2020, says mental health has long been an interest.
In his short time with Police he has faced confronting situations, including being among the first uniformed officers on the scene after the LynnMall terror attack.
“I’ve been part of some pretty horrific incidents, with Fire and now with Police,” he says. “I’m really big on making sure there are avenues where people can get help.”
Craig, a volunteer firefighter and Director of health and safety consultancy All About People, says he called on FENZ support services when he “hit the wall” after a bad run.
“It made me realise I wasn’t bullet proof,” he says. “The ride for me is encouraging others that it’s OK to speak up and get help – it does make a difference.”
The ride follows the Kōpiko Aotearoa trail – an impressive 1,060km across the widest part of New Zealand.
It passes through some amazing parts of Central, Bay of Plenty, Waikato and Eastern Districts – such as the Forgotten World Highway and Lake Waikaremoana – and the riders plan to post daily updates on their It’s OK Facebook and Instagram pages.
They will have a SPOT tracker so wellwishers can follow their progress.
COVID-19 precautions will be observed – one suggestion for a COVID-friendly alternative to riding along is getting sponsored for a session on an exercise bike at the gym.
Craig says they are grateful to a raft of supporters and their commercial sponsors: EVO Cycles, TradeMutt Clothing, Shredder Racks and All About People.