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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Students bike to remember Michael Edmonds

<p>Karen Edmonds leads a pack of cyclists past the Fine Arts building Monday afternoon. The Florida Cycling club organized the 12-mile ride to honor Edmonds’ late brother, Michael Edmonds.</p>

Karen Edmonds leads a pack of cyclists past the Fine Arts building Monday afternoon. The Florida Cycling club organized the 12-mile ride to honor Edmonds’ late brother, Michael Edmonds.

Turlington Plaza onto Stadium Road.

A pack of cyclists funneled out on Monday evening, and one of the smallest women in the group led the stream.

It was Karen Edmonds on her Trek 5200, the one her brother, Michael, found online back in 2007.

The bike, and the ride, was a link to the brother she lost. On April 16, Michael took his own life, falling from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“It was our thing together,” she said. “It’s hard because I know we’ll never get to ride together. I just wish I could ride with him again.”

He called her the day she got the bike — can you meet me in five minutes? — and haggled with the seller until the price dropped to $900. I still can’t afford it, Karen said. For her, Michael paid.

“You’ll get me back later,” he said.

East on Stadium Road, east through Northwest 13th Street. Onto Southwest Fourth Avenue.

A state champion in the 3,200 meters at Clay High School, Karen was the family athlete. But six or seven years ago, when he wanted to lose weight, Michael asked for help. She introduced him to cycling, and he soon lost more than 100 pounds.

Michael and Karen biked together almost up to the day he died. They planned to ride this Monday, when Karen had a day off from her bartending job at Miller’s Ale House in Jacksonville.

But their ride was called off.

Michael’s death was the end of a three-year struggle with bipolar disorder, a disease that at times changed the kid who painted himself blue and ran shirtless down the sidelines at high school football games, the kid who took joy in buying his family extravagant gifts.

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Like Gators’ national championship tickets for his dad. Or a bike for Karen.

Karen rode Monday despite the absence of her little brother. She rode for him. The Team Florida Cycling club organized a 12-mile ride to honor their fallen teammate, and more than 100 people participated.

Down Southwest Fourth Avenue, past Sixth Street, past Main Street, past the Hippodrome State Theater.

Karen visited Michael three weekends ago. After watching the Florida Relays track meet, they went to Boca Fiesta. He made her eat gator tail.

Michael grew up a Gators fan. In Green Cove Springs, his whole family rooted for Florida, all 40 cousins and aunts and grandparents. After high school, he enrolled at Florida State College, where his mother said he kept a 4.0 GPA.

Last February, he called his dad. I got accepted, he said, I’m starting at Florida in August.

His parents say that day changed his life. After years of medication, years of switching from one pill to the next, swapping side effects like facial tics for constant exhaustion, Michael seemed to find the cure. It was a simple acceptance letter.

Michael stopped taking his medication last November, though his parents didn’t find out for a couple months. He seemed back to normal, his mother said.

Down University Avenue. East, east, east until there is no University Avenue, until the road runs into Newnans Lake.

Karen used to ask Michael to proofread her papers. Who cared if she was in college and he was still in high school? He could write. It was gift.

When he arrived at UF, Michael chose to major in journalism. He loved telling stories, he used to write songs when he played guitar in high school.

His goal was to launch Manic, a magazine that dealt with The Beast, the mental illnesses that so few people really understood. But he wanted it to be much more. Manic would be politics. Manic would be art. Manic would be sports — gosh, would it be sports. Michael convinced his own father to switch loyalties from the 27-world-championship Yankees to the miserable Cubs.

Down Lake Shore Drive, up Hawthorne Road. Now, back on Southwest Fourth Avenue. Past Williston Road.

Go west on Williston, past I-75. It was there in February that Michael was hit by a car while riding with Team Florida. He suffered broken vertebrae, was forced to wear a back brace.

His mother said she doesn’t know why, but it was then that Michael seemed to unravel. Maybe he missed riding, his outlet. Maybe he needed his pills.

Michael tried to commit suicide twice before. Once before he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and once after.

“He told his mother he didn’t want to do it,” said Michael’s aunt Robin. “His mind made him make these plans. He couldn’t deviate. He couldn’t stop it.”

Down Southwest Fourth Avenue. Back to campus. To the Reitz Union.

The pack gathered at the Reitz Union Amphitheater at the end of the ride. They celebrated the man who lost out to an opponent they couldn’t quite understand.

He was funny, they said. He was dedicated. He was loving.

He was Mikey.

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@alligator.org.

Karen Edmonds leads a pack of cyclists past the Fine Arts building Monday afternoon. The Florida Cycling club organized the 12-mile ride to honor Edmonds’ late brother, Michael Edmonds.

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