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Cyclist to ride 2,745 miles to benefit mental health recovery

Jeremiah Reiner is on a mission to raise $50K for CooperRiis
A tranquil spot in Western North Carolina inspired one person to head toward tougher terrain
Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 12:03 AM EDT
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MILL SPRING, N.C. - CooperRiis, a residential healing community for people with mental health challenges, has expanded its farm and reach since it opened in the lush, rolling hills of Polk County for 19 years.

Jeremiah Reiner, a clinical recovery coach at CooperRiis, said an online search led him to the center, and he was impressed by the treatment approach and so much more.

“I was really taken in by the surrounding area as well,” Reiner told FOX Carolina. “It had the best cycling of all the different centers that I had looked at.”

Reiner said cycling helped him on his journey to recovery after experiencing depression, anxiety and more - which reached a peak during his sophomore year of college.

“I started to withdraw from social situations. I would not return people’s phone calls or text messages. I had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. I was not able to feed or care for myself and sometimes wouldn’t leave my apartment for a week at a time,” Reiner said. “That was the first time I even realized that I had mental challenges.”

After his mother helped him withdraw from college and find a therapist, Reiner spent the next ten years developing the skills he needed to survive.

“For me, the rhythmic motion of cycling is incredibly therapeutic,” Reiner said.

Reiner has turned to cycling with his Ride Above Mental illness, in a mission to raise $50K for CooperRiis by participating in the 2022 Tour Divide. The mountain bike ride covers 2,475 miles along the Great Divide from Alberta, Canada to where the U.S border ends in New Mexico.

“I’m hoping to raise awareness and open up conversations with people along the way,” Reiner said. “You don’t have to be marginalized because of your mental health challenges.”

Founder Lisbeth Riis Cooper said it’s wonderful how Reiner’s ride will benefit CooperRiis. She and her husband decided to open the center after their daughter’s diagnosis with mental illness at the age of 18 led to a decade of unsuccessful attempts to find treatment.

“I told my husband, ‘We can do this,’” Riis Cooper said. “I’ve seen everything over 10 years that doesn’t work. Let’s just do the opposite.”

The 90-acre healing community center has three main components - including clinical therapies, integrative wellness and meaningful and purposeful work on the farm.

“When we opened in June of 2003, we had four residents and 25 staff. Everyone said, ‘This isn’t going to work,’” Riis Cooper said. “Within a year, we were full with a waiting list.”

CoopeRiis now has a staff of 200 and can accommodate 100 people at a given time at its Mill Spring and Asheville campuses.

Kim Nelson, the outreach director, said there are 200 animals to care for on the farm, a woodshop, garden, greenhouse, kitchen and a barn for art therapy.

“These are really prevocational skills that a lot of our residents are tapping into to learn about things they really enjoy and honing in on those skills,” Nelson said.

CEO Eric Levine said residents who commit to about three to six months of treatment at the farm before continuing with the transitional programs tend to be most successful in regaining control of their lives and living independently.

“It doesn’t always happen but when it does, it’s magic,” Levine said. “I would say it happens more than it doesn’t.”

In addition to Reiner’s ride to raise money, there is an ongoing fundraiser to help provide treatment. Levine said an anonymous donor has agreed to match the funds raised.