Riding for all the right reasons
Six flats, three chains, two tires. Five thousand one hundred miles, two legs, one patriotic and philanthropic Yale physician. Those numbers sketch the cross-country odyssey of Andrés Martin, M.D., M.P.H. ’02, the Riva Ariella Ritvo Professor in the Child Study Center and professor of psychiatry, who climbed onto a bicycle on August 17 in Seattle, Washington, and arrived over two months later in Washington, D.C., no worse for wear.
“I loved every minute of it,” Martin said.
The goal of that ambitious ride, called Break the Cycle: to raise awareness of and funding for pediatric mental illness. Along the road, Martin was joined by a rotating cast of 49 fellow riders, including physicians and family members of children with mental illness. They did media interviews, held one-off fundraising events—including a spin class—and ultimately raised over $200,000 for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). The organization represents what he calls one of medicine’s most underserved specialties.
“The need is huge—even if we quintupled the number of child psychiatrists, it wouldn’t be close to enough,” said Martin. The money raised by the ride will support research and help to train new child psychiatrists, as well as assisting children with mental illness to access the care they need.
A typical day on the road saw Martin up by 5 a.m., climbing onto his carbon-fiber Trek bike by 7, and pedaling until midafternoon—about 100 miles a day. Every evening, the experienced triathlete climbed into an ice bath to protect his legs from inflammation, a routine so effective that he never needed Tylenol. Martin got lucky with the weather, too: in 500 hours on the road, he endured only about four hours’ rain.
It was also Martin’s first journey through the country as a naturalized United States citizen. The son of Slovakian Jewish Holocaust survivors who emigrated to Mexico, he earned his medical degree in Mexico City. He continued his medical training at the University of Miami and at Massachusetts General Hospital before joining Yale’s faculty in 1996.
The trip was a “wonderful, very granular way of getting to know the country,” Martin said. “I’ve been grateful for all the opportunities that America has opened for me and for my family. I’m incredibly patriotic ... . Crossing the country coast to coast, to feel the textures and the smells and the sights, it’s really, really deep and meaningful.” Some favorite memories: Badlands National Monument in South Dakota; a short ride in Portland, Oregon, whose pace was set by children; a man with schizophrenia who thanked the cyclists for their work on his behalf.
Martin himself has faced mental illness, and the ride began as a personal journey. Seven years ago, he took up cycling as a way to cope with a bout of serious depression, the fourth such episode of his life. Along with professional help and a “dash of apt chemicals,” Martin wrote in an AACAP editorial called “Cyclotherapy,” cycling helped him overcome depression. After adding a cross-country trip to his bucket list, he realized he could use the ride to give back to his profession.
Given that stigma surrounding mental illness adds to the difficulty many children face in accessing psychiatric care, Martin says it’s important to speak openly about his own issues.
At the end of 2017, Martin stepped down after a 10-year term as editor of the AACAP’s journal. He is also AACAP’s secretary-elect and a visiting professor at Tel Aviv University. In addition to mentorship, research, and patient care, Martin is a prolific writer with many essays and reviews of popular and scholarly books in publication. He lives in New Haven with his wife, Rebecca, and their four children.
Break the Cycle was such a success that Martin plans to make it a franchise of sorts in the child psychiatry community. For next year, he’s planning a two-day journey from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Seattle. A trip through Sweden is also in the works for 2019.
In the process, Martin hopes more of his colleagues will begin to think of themselves as clinician-philanthropists, helping the organizations that helped them at earlier stages of their careers.
“The mentorship, training, education, and early exposure of folks going into this field—that’s something that I’m really excited about,” he said. “No matter what branch of medicine you are in, what you’re passionate about, there’s a way of giving back.”