Football players and motorcyclists are as tough as they come. But mental illness can affect you and your loved ones, no matter how tough you are.
Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall and more than 200 bikers spread that message Saturday morning during the first Brandon Marshall Mental Health Awareness Ride sponsored by the Brandon Marshall Foundation, Starved Rock Harley-Davidson and Linden Oaks at Edward Hospital.
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The group of 200 rumbling motorcycles left the Linden Oaks Outpatient Center at 1335 N. Mill St. in Naperville after 10 a.m. and traveled more than 50 miles through Aurora, Oswego and Yorkville to the Starved Rock Harley-Davidson dealership, 750 Centennial Drive in Ottawa, where they enjoyed a band, barbecue and raffles.
"I love bikers because you guys are strong," Marshall told the crowd before heading out. "And generous."
Marshall -- contractually forbidden from riding a motorcycle, according to event organizers -- rode to Starved Rock in a SUV after cheering on all of the bikers from the starting gate.
"It doesn't matter if you're a biker. It doesn't matter if you play golf. Mental health affects all of us and hits both ends of the spectrum," Marshall said. "For us to come together and ride for awareness says a lot about how powerful this issue is. We're very thankful."
Marshall was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2010. Since then, he and his wife, Michi, co-founded the Brandon Marshall Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a mission to end the stigma associated with mental illness, advocate for awareness, connect those suffering to the resources they need and paint the world lime green (the official color for mental health awareness).
Many of Saturday's riders wore green from the bandannas on their heads to bracelets to their socks. Others were decked out in their Bears gear.
Plainfield resident Scott Gurschke said he rarely misses a chance to ride his 2010 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic for charity, but this one was extra special. And not because Marshall was there.
His 15-year-old daughter, Stephanie, who rode with him Saturday, has been treated for anxiety, depression and epilepsy at Linden Oaks.
"I'm here for her and to raise money so they can build more centers for people like Stephanie to get help they need," said Gurschke, who said he and his family aren't football fans. "It's weird because it means nothing to me that he's here, but it means everything to me why he's here."
It wasn't until he read about the event that he even knew Marshall's story of his diagnosis and treatment. Then he researched it more.
"It's a shame that it takes someone of his celebrity status to be affected to raise awareness," he said. "But I respect the heck out of him for using the platform he has in a positive way."
Gina Sharp, president of Linden Oaks at Edward, also praised Marshall and his foundation for their commitment.
"We've been working on this for months, and it's come together beautifully," Sharp said. "If it worked this well on the first run, I can't wait to see how it grows in the years to come."
For more information or to make a donation, visit www.thebrandonmarshall.com/foundation.
Linden Oaks at Edward is a 108-bed behavioral health hospital on Edward Hospital's Naperville campus with outpatient offices in Naperville, Plainfield, St. Charles, Woodridge and Yorkville.