Joe Dixon has been a long-standing friend to Love Gorey and to many in North Wexford so when we heard he was planning a trip to the Dolomites in the North East of Italy as part of his work with the Headstrong Schools Programme we wanted to share details of his journey to the many followers of his work both here in North Wexford and far further afield.
Part of Joe’s motivation for speaking with us was not just to raise awareness of the Cycle Against Suicide’s Headstrong Schools Programme but also to thank the many people not only from his native Gorey & North Wexford but across Ireland and internationally from Belgium, The Netherlands, Scotland, the UK and USA who supported him on his journey. As many of you know Joe is a passionate fundraiser from his work with Cycle Against Suicide, he has hosted three Splash-a-thon’s, hosted the National Orange Tie Ball twice, and has brought a number of cycle events to the area. His target of €2.500k fundraising target for the Dolomite Trek was surpassed with his final figure of €10k exceeding all his hopes and expectations.
Joe explained having reached a certain age he wanted new experiences in his life – “too old to stand still” is his new motto, so an ambitious fitness regime and targets were set in order for him to be physically fit to complete the trek through the Dolomites. Eight weeks before his departure date Joe committed to a strict but necessary fitness routine of 5/10km per day 5 days a week and at the weekends a trek over the hills of around 20k. During our chat, he took a moment to express his gratitude to his wife Catriona, and his daughters Tara and Leah for their support and encouragement. Joe also mentioned his many good friends who traveled, from far and wide, to the North Wexford area to train for their trek to the Dolomites.
On the 3rd of September 2022, Joe began his 8-day trip with 5 official days of hiking in what he describes as the most breathtaking, humbling vistas he has ever encountered. In total 18 participants accompanied Joe as part of the trip and he says each and everyone left with something that will remain with them throughout their lives. Echoing the support he felt he said the group each had a strong emotional connection and the unity of the group was a key factor in their achievement. The group aged in range from the mid-30s to late 60s and during the trip they created some wonderful friendships. Only last weekend 6 of the group visited Gorey and North Wexford for a reunion and party at Joe and Catriona’s home.
As Joe described, with passion, the incredible scenery from giant mountains with stunning vistas, alpine forests and snow-capped mountain tops, you can feel the impact that the trip has had on him. On the third day of his trip a small group journeyed up to 3,240m on the mountain where Joe describes the air being so thin a sense of dizziness set in for most of the group, but by the time they reached a viewing point at the pinnacle, he described the moment as standing in the clouds “ you feel as though you could touch the sky” he said. This moment was a time for reflection, a reflection of their individual journeys to that point, and for a moment time stood still, in silence, on top of the world. He said that, for him, this was the most emotional day of the trip, a day to remember his son Fergus, his Mum and his sister Eileen. The messages of support from his many friends to his phone and the support from the group got him through that day, and this is something he will be forever grateful for.
The itinerary for the next day was set for a trek through an alpine forest. Followers of Joe’s photographs on social media will know the deep respect Joe has for nature so for him to experience the flora and fauna of the forest and an early morning encounter with a deer and her fawn has left Joe with lifelong memories. As he spoke of this hike he told of the sound of echoing church bells through the valley on their descent added to the atmosphere and memory.
Another highlight of the trip Joe takes back with him was the warm welcome from the family-run hotel the group stayed in where they each were made feel like family, possibly due to their Irish connections from Belfast, Joe remarked that there was no formality only a warm welcome and this has become another treasured memory of the trip.
Joe’s passionate, personal and heartfelt commitment to mental health awareness is at the helm of every task Joe undertakes and the trip he said has had an incredible impact and was, without doubt, his greatest adventure to date.
On the trip, he carried a symbolic pebble for his son Fergus. Fergus loved hiking with his local scout group and had a deep love of the mountains. Joe left the pebble on top of a mountain as a token of love and a way of bringing Fergus on the journey
Now that Joe is home his work continues, he is planning a new Buddy Program with an ambitious turnaround and next year he is working the return of the Splash-a-thon (cycling a bike in a swimming pool).
But his message to everyone is a reminder to express how we are feeling and communicate with someone, there is always support out there.
Joe finished our chat by thanking everyone who has supported him and his family over the years, “we will be eternally grateful for the support we have had and continue to receive”
The Headstrong Schools Programme is aimed at teenagers to encourage resilience, and mental health awareness and seek help through a peer-on-peer learning ethos. For more details see https://www.cycleagainstsuicide.com/courses/tool-kit/