I met Jimmy Christensen and his companion, Boyd Anderson, as they rode on mule and horse into town recently to secure provisions for their planned ride of the entire Arizona Trail, a trek they intend to complete by doing a segment at a time between now and September. They had only the day before started their northward journey at Parker Canyon Lake, so I thought it a bit unusual that they were already stopping to take on more provisions, especially since they had two pack mules already laden with provisions. Perhaps their mention of ice cream was a clue that their prime “supply” need might have been something to satisfy the sweet tooth.
During their stop on the helipad opposite town hall Christensen called my attention to the lavender running shoes tied to his saddle. He shared that the shoes belonged to his daughter Zibby who died about a year ago. She was just 17 years old and ran track and cross country. “She was a heck of a runner and an honor student,” he said proudly, “and I’m dedicating this ride to her memory.”
Zibby’s death has led Christensen to take on a much more urgent mission than merely riding the length of the Arizona Trail. Her shoes are symbolic of his intent to use his loss to raise awareness of the tragedy of teen suicide, which he believes is epidemic in this country. “Kids have so much pressure these days,” he says. “These kids need to know … there’s people who love them.”
As the riders headed out of town on First Avenue, the hope of helping someone else avoid the pain Christensen endures was unmistakable, as he told me several times to include the hashtag #choosetostay. “The kids will understand it,” he said with conviction.
Perhaps my chance encounter with this veterinarian from Gilbert will help all of us “understand it” and help a young person “choose to stay.”