In Our Own Words Eric Livingstone Hero
Training Tips

"This ride is going to be my highway to heal..."

By: Eric Livingstone  March 10, 2020

After losing his wife to cancer, Eric Livingstone and his son, Eliya, needed to find a way to heal. Through Camp Kesem and the Highway 2 Heal project, they are doing that.

It all began back in 2016 when my wife passed away from “triple negative breast cancer;” which basically means, they don’t know the cause. It wasn’t hormonal, it wasn’t genetic, it wasn’t environmental; it wasn’t what she ate, drank or anything like that. Unfortunately, it just was. Her death left my son – he had just turned seven – without a mother and me without my best friend. The next few years were dark. Full of grief and depression, just foggy and cloudy and I had no course in life. No direction. I wasn’t even aware that I was so deep into the grief and depression. It’s hard to explain, but I guess I thought I was stronger than that. I thought I was more aware and capable of ‘okay, this is a rough patch, but you know you’ve got to move on. You’ve got a son.’ But it was just kind of always there.

Throughout those initial years I knew that I wasn’t really connecting with my son Eliya. I maybe saw him cry once or twice; meanwhile, he would find me in a pool of tears or needing a big long hug and he was always there for me. But, I never really saw him grieving. I never saw him going through what I guess I envisioned my child needing to go through to grieve and heal.

In 2018, a couple years after my wife had passed, I discovered a worksheet that Eliya had brought home from visiting the school therapist. The worksheet was designed to get Eliya to open up and speak about his feelings and emotions and one of the questions on it was “what do you miss the most?” Not surprisingly, he said “I miss my mom” but I didn’t expect the next part. It floored me.

He said, “I miss my dad and I wish my dad was around more.” I read that and just crumbled to the floor in a pool of tears. I was thinking, ‘what is going on? What am I missing? What am I not doing?’ And in that moment I decided that I had to change my life. I had no idea where I was going to go. No idea what was next, but I knew I needed to be more present in my son’s life.

So, I left my career.

I walked away. I had just gotten a job – VP of Operations for a small restaurant group – and things were moving in the direction that I had worked so hard to accomplish, but after reading that worksheet and knowing that I had felt something similar inside of me for a while anyways, I just left my career. I figured, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but my son needs me. And I probably need him. I need to connect with him’.

The next year or so was still unclear and foggy, but I was taking control. Things were very uncertain, I didn’t have a job, but I decided that in 2020, for my 50th, I would do something really big. I wanted to do something really big for myself that would serve as a turning point for me and show my son fortitude, strength, dreaming, believing and achieving. Even though I didn’t have the tools to connect with him and shepherd him through his pain and trauma, I knew I could show him something.

I had a road bike and had done a couple mini sprint triathlons in the summer of 2017 and I had felt really good about it and especially loved the cycling. I felt so good being on the bike and being in the wind and being in nature and it slowed down life for me and it allowed me to sit with myself, my thoughts and my feelings. For me physically, being on a bike, when my muscles start to become fatigued and my cardio’s tapped and there’s a hill coming up, I think of just one revolution after the other and one push down and one pull up and it just becomes so simple to me and I envision becoming a machine and just keeping my motor turning. Just keeping my motor turning. The bike resonates with me on so many levels – because it’s really simple – and it’s just my body weight, it’s just two wheels, it’s my will, it’s the mental game, it’s just my energy that I’m creating that’s propelling me forward. And all of those things – on a physical, mental and spiritual level – resonate with who I am. I think that’s why I gravitate to the bike and cycling so much. It just resonates with me on all three levels of living – body, mind, spirit.

I loved the solitude of the bike, so in 2019 when I was wondering, ‘what am I going to do?’ I thought, “why don’t I bicycle across the country? That will be big!”

As soon as I set that goal for myself, things changed. I dialed in on accomplishing that goal. I had been sending out my resume – it was a really good resume – but I wasn’t even getting an interview. At first I was upset about that, but after I made this decision to ride across the country, and feeling my life change, I was like, ‘oh okay. Life is saying you need to follow this course. You need to see this path all the way through and you don’t know where it’s going to lead but something’s going to happen’. So I made the decision and I was on Cloud 9. Life started clicking and things became clear and then, miraculously, Camp Kesem came into our lives. The way it came into our lives was an example of life saying ‘this is the path you need to go down’.

In the summer of 2019, Eliya was at summer camp and I picked him up on a Thursday – I’ll never forget it. He got in the car and he said, “dad! I want to go to Camp Kesem”. I was like, ‘Camp Kesem?’ I had heard about it. He goes, “yeah dad, it’s a camp for kids who are dealing with cancer”. I was like, ‘what? Have cancer?’ and he goes, “no dad, not kids with cancer but kids whose parents’ have cancer”. Apparently a boy at camp told him about it.

My reaction was, ‘wow, okay that sounds amazing,’ but then he said, “camp starts on Monday”. Naturally, I reacted by saying, ‘okay, it’s Thursday. Camp starts in three days. Son, there’s no way. I should have planned on this back in January and signed you up. Sorry son, but maybe next year’. Conversation over.

Or not.

Sunday night rolls around. Eliya is asleep in bed, I’m cleaning up the kitchen and all of a sudden I think, ‘what do you have to lose’? So, I composed the simplest, wittiest, most charming email I’ve ever written in my life and I basically said, ‘either there’s a miracle that can happen or at least you guys are getting a big laugh out of this because I’m asking if my son can come to your camp tomorrow. Haha.’

Insert the miracle.

I get an email back Monday morning from Camp Kesem that says, “we would love to have your son. There’s one spot left. We have a separate track beginning next week. Let’s do this”. And I just thought, ‘wow’.

I spent that next week filling out all the camp forms and I’m corresponding with the college kids who are running the camp and it was just incredible. These are 21 or 22 year old kids who are putting on a camp with 120 kids in the mountains with limited connectivity and they were so positive and so happy and everything was just flawless and seamless in relation to getting Eliya to camp the next week.

Eliya went to camp the following week and it was the first time he was away for five nights and honestly, he came back a changed kid. I’ll never forget the pickup day, busses driving down the street and me there looking, trying to spot my son – bus # 1? No. Bus #2? No. Bus #3? No. Bus #4? And of course, I’m panicking, ‘oh my gosh, where is my son?’ But then I see this arm fly out of the window and it’s Eliya. He got off the bus and we exchanged big hugs and big tears and big kisses, but he just had this look in his eyes and all I could think was ‘wow’. He looked different, felt different, and walked differently.

I waited a few days but I was still witnessing the same changes. It was incredible. So I put together another email and I sent it to every single Camp Kesem email account that I had. I praised them up and down, thanked them, and I said, ‘you know I was planning on doing this ride next year – in 2020 – for myself and for my son but you guys have so inspired me that I want to raise awareness for Camp Kesem and fundraise along the way. Please send this email up the chain. I want everybody to know what an amazing job you guys did in getting him in there and how inspired I am by you guys’.

And that was the start of an exciting connection.

Highway2Heal logo

I became a “Team Kesem” member recently. Essentially, I’m an Ambassador. I am working with them to get on the road and bring awareness to the ride and to Highway 2 Heal.

I started Highway 2 Heal because I knew all along that it was the journey for me. This ride is going to be my highway to heal – my road trip for sitting with my feelings and thoughts. My opportunity to connect with all these deep, hidden, dark areas of me that have been suppressed underneath all of the last few years of life and grieving and so forth. As part of that, I want to talk to people. I want to talk to experts who can explain to me what happens in my brain when I’m dealing with grief and depression. I want to talk to therapists who can help give me tools to heal myself, to connect with my son, to help him through his trauma. I want to talk to survivors – family members who are dealing with loss – I want to see what information and knowledge I can glean from them. I want to speak to clergy who probably deal with grief a lot. I want to talk to shaman. I want to talk to strangers. I just want to talk. And that desire is what prompted the idea of a documentary. I was sharing my ride idea with a friend, and he was like, ‘that’s amazing. Why don’t we make a documentary film about this?’ So here I am. I know I found a purpose and a chance to help kids, to help myself, and to reconnect with my son.

My son, Eliya, is going to be part of the ride. He’ll be there in the beginning – in California. We made a little trailer of the documentary and he shot a lot of the documentary with my iPhone. My buddy would be driving the car and Eliya would be holding the camera out of the window or whatever, and he really enjoyed that. So, I want to do that again and have him shoot it. I think it is going to be really good for us to connect at this beginning phase of the ride and to consider the why, the how; what’s coming up for him, what’s coming up for me, and just kind of bonding. Then, roughly halfway through the ride, I’ll turn 50 so he will come back out again and stay with me on the road for a while and I want to visit a couple of the Camp Kesems that will be happening with him, so that he can just see the connection that all these other kids are experiencing via Camp Kesem and so that he can see the connection between the ride and Camp Kesem. I want him to have some real tangible experiences and memories to draw from at the end when we end up doing something wonderful. I’m excited.

When I think about the purpose of Highway 2 Heal – of this ride – the reality is that, selfishly, the purpose is to heal. Knowing myself, I believe that pushing myself physically day in and day out through all of the winds, the heat, the cold, the rain – just really physically taxing my body while being in such a solitary space – will allow my mind and my spirit to work through whatever questions and doubts and thoughts I have. Selfishly, it will heal me. It will empower me. It will connect me with me. On a larger scale, this isn’t a one-off for me. I don’t want Highway 2 Heal to be a one-time thing. I want it to be something that I can continue year in and year out until I can positively impact the 5 million kids out there like Eliya. There are roughly 5 million kids out there whose parent is going through or is beyond their battle with cancer, which means there’s so many more children out there and surviving caregivers, like myself, that need a chance to feel like they are not alone. I want Highway 2 Heal to make a positive impact for those people and if I’m out there physically doing something, hopefully people will see that – maybe I just start going for a walk, or I go for a swim, or I get back to the gym or I do my yoga or I do my meditation or whatever that thing is that resonates with them and makes them feel good and gets them feeling alive again. And I want to do this while raising awareness for Camp Kesem and fundraising for Camp Kesem in the hopes that other kids can experience it; that’s what I want to do.

There are 5 million kids out there directly impacted by cancer and Camp Kesem is only able to help 12000 kids a year. We have a long way to go. If I’m feeling depressed – experiencing pain and loss – what are these kids feeling? What are these kids going through who don’t have the outlet, let alone the verbal command, to express themselves because they’re 7, 8, 9? What are the horrible thoughts that the 12, 13, 14 year old kids are dealing with? How quickly are they having to grow up and “parent” their surviving parent because their parent is grieving and they want to help their parent? What’s happening to them in school? I just feel like Camp Kesem, if it can grow, can really be that bridge – not just for summer camp, but more programs annually. So, I want to help.

Maybe there’s a reason I was in the hospitality industry for 30 years, serving people. Yes, it was food and drinks and an experience, but I want to impact the World. In some small way, I want to know that I made a difference for somebody and at the very least, my son. So Highway 2 Heal is going to be that thing that I can continue. I can get on a bike next year and do this again. I can go do mini sprints across the country. Whatever I need to do that incorporates doing good, philanthropy and some physical nature – some trifecta of body, mind, and spirit. That is what I want Highway 2 Heal to become.

More about Eric's mission:

If you want to follow or support Eric’s mission, you can follow his journey on social media: Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and through his Facebook @highway2heal.

Eric is particularly grateful for words of encouragement. According to Eric: “the positive words of encouragement mean the world to me right now and obviously I need to get on the road and if people can connect me with sponsors, people who have connections in the cycling industry where I can get used/donated road bikes for the ride or gear for the ride or jerseys or anything like that, it’s going to go a long way. I’m a one man show with nine dear friends who are in the midst of their jobs, lives and families, doing everything they can to get me on the road and helping me with the GoFundMe. So it all comes down to asking for peoples’ help to get me on the road so I can do good and it’s a big ask and I know it’s going to happen because life has clearly just put me on this path and on this course. Someway, somehow, I’ll be on the road and it’s either by myself or with a friend or a couple buddies and we make a story out of it and we share the story along the way via YouTube and we create a documentary film that hopefully inspires others who end up viewing it down the road. Leaving some levity for others in my shoes or at least my son.

I’ve been really focused on biking three to four times a week since last June obviously and I’m really upping my miles and all that stuff, but the community – the cyclists – are so open and so welcoming and everybody that I’ve been introduced to – these are guys who do it for racing and so forth and so on – they’re just like, ‘sure! Come on! Let’s go for a ride.’ ‘Hey come on, you’ve got to do that 100 miles’ and they push push push in such a positive way. Every time you pass another cyclist on the road there’s a nod, there’s a hand, there’s a thumbs up – there’s something that you just know you’re grinding through something physically or you know the other person is grinding through something mentally; whether it’s loss, a bad day, addiction, overcoming addiction – whatever it is, you’re grinding through something. You’re suffering through something and you see that other person on the road and you know there’s that connection and it’s just wonderful.

There’s a huge ‘thanks’ to all the cyclists out there that are so open and welcoming to somebody getting into the space. I want to make sure that all the cyclists out there who have paved the road, so to speak, know that all of their hard work and miles and positivity are welcomed and appreciated and seen by a beginner like me."

You can donate via Gofundme:

Click Here to Donate to Highway 2 Heal.

About the contributor

Eric Livingstone is a Southern California native who recently got into road cycling. This new hobby saved him from the depths of depression and afforded him the opportunity to re-orientate his life course and now set out to help others.