Friday, August 7, 2020
Robert Sikel and Rally Witzel stand next to their trailer with the American flag blowing in the breeze. Each year Sikel and Witzel get an idea for an area they’d like to plan the ride around and scout the route together.

A reason to ride

Jacob’s Run raises awareness and funds for suicide prevention

With the sun shining and a light autumn breeze, it was a perfect Saturday to be out riding on the road. For those who took part in the seventh annual Jacob’s Run, there was no where else they’d rather be.

The yearly event, which departs from Owatonna and circles through chosen destinations before winding back to town, raises money and builds awareness for the Open Arms Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program.

It was started shortly after Jacob Sikel passed away at the age of 15. His father, Robert, decided that he could use Jacob’s tragic story as a means of bringing awareness and illuminating issues of suicide.

“It’s extremely important for me that everyone realizes that suicide isn’t just the result of depression,” Robert Sikel explained of the event. “Jacob didn’t have depression. He went out on a bender with some friends of his, and they were taking Adderall, which they used sort of like a caffeine pill.” 

Sikel explained that the after-effects of abusing Adderall can be similar to the come down a heroin user might experience, and although Jacob did not suffer from depression, it was this abuse which resulted in his suicide in July of 2012.

Since then, his father and friends and family have done everything they can to raise awareness by reminding us all of the child and friend they lost.

Bill Rosenau, a friend of the family, said that he’s participated every year since the inception of the event. “Robert pretty much put this all together,” he said as he walked the parking lot full of bikes. 

When asked what his favorite part of the event is, Rosenau echoed the same words that was on the minds of everyone in attendance. “The comradery and the people. You see lots of good friends when out riding.”

“I think that the perception was before that riders were all these hardcore guys,” Rosenau said. “But take a ride like today where we’re able to raise a lot of money for a good cause and you’ll see that isn’t so.”

Not only does the money raised go to help Sikel and his suicide prevention program continue to educate students, it also contributes to scholarships for eligible schools. Last year they gave out 13 scholarships of $500 each.

Dave Braaten, Jacob’s step-grandfather, attested to the fact that awareness is key with suicide prevention. “It’s kind of like spreading the word. I think suicide was basically behind close doors before and now we’re speaking about it to get the awareness out there,” Braaten said.

“It’s very, very important to share Jacob’s story,” Rita Braaten, Jacob’s grandmother said. “Years ago, people never really talked about suicide, so I feel that awareness needs to be raised so they know that help is out there.”

She agreed with Rosenau’s assessment that there was a certain level of comradery to the event, and the people who are inspired to take part in it. “I love the people, you always meet new faces and new people,” she explained.

The Open Arms Yellow Ribbon group is comprised entirely of volunteers, some of whom help Jacob’s father in raising awareness during school visits. “Every year we get more and more with extra donations,” Sikel said.

“We have a great core who help me out with this, and our group is getting better and better each year,” Sikel said on the event’s continued success. This year they had 140 riders preregistered for the event, coupled with another fifty or more who showed up to register.

Along with bikes there were also old roadsters and classic cars there to take part in the ride. For these riders, safety is key. “We have Minnesota State licensed blockers so we’re able to stop and direct traffic,” Sikel explained.

Although most people will adhere to this custom, they will occasionally get a few drivers who protest. That is until Sikel explains the good cause and hands them a yellow ribbon bracelet. “I always keep a handful of bracelets with me,” he said. “I’ve even had some people give me donations from their car.”

“This event does two things. Back in the early 70s and 80s riders had a bad rap, and you get bikers together for something like this and it shows that just isn’t the case,” Sikel explained. “And of course, it spreads awareness of Jacob’s story.”

For many, riding is a great way to exhibit the freedom and joy that life can hold. “Absolutely,” Sikel said of this fact. “You feel the wind in your hair and you feel good when you’re out riding.”

Although he enjoys the fun of all his friends and supporters along the way, Sikel said that his favorite part is when they’re all leaving from Owatonna. “Sometimes along the way we’re kind of staggered or separated a little, but when we leave everybody is here at the same time. It’s really heartwarming and every year I cry.”

This year’s ride took them from Spare Time Entertainment in Owatonna to Warsaw and then to Le Center for a meal at the Lake Front Bar and Grill before they were back on the road and headed through Elko New Market, Dennison, and back to Owatonna. The trip usually lasts until about 4:30 or 5 p.m., with riders leaving Owatonna at 10:30 a.m.

This year the weather was perfect for riding, and people were there in droves to support Sikel’s cause. “They come from all over Minnesota,” he said. “I hope it continues to grow.”

The sense of community and comradery was second only to importance of the story they’re bringing to Minnesotans everywhere.

See full story in this week’s print edition or subscribe online. Please subscribe here or current subscribers can login here.

Steele County Times & DCI

Steele County Times
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P.O. Box 247
Blooming Prairie, MN 55917

Dodge County Independent / ADvantage
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Kasson, MN 55944

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Kasson, MN 55944


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