North Shore Biker Treks to Washington, D.C., to Advocate for the Mentally Ill

Nathan Maier has spent 5 years zipping around the streets of Chicago and New York City as a professional bicycle messenger.

The 32-year-old Winnetka resident has also wrestled with Bipolar disorder since 1998, when he was a sophomore at New York University.

So when Maier learned of an opportunity to marry his passion for cycling to his desire to help others who suffer from mental illness, he seized it.

The result? Maier mounted his Cannondale touring bike on April 26 and headed east on a more than 1,000-mile, 23-day trek to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness for the lack of affordable, supportive housing for the mentally ill on North Shore. Maier will arrive in Washington, D.C. on May 23.

“In Illinois, we have 17,000 people with mental illness in nursing homes, which is not appropriate,” Maier says.

“It’s appalling,” echoes Maier’s mother, Barb, who is the executive director of the Cook County North Suburban affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a group focused on advocating for the mentally ill.

She says that across the North Shore alone, individuals who are mentally ill and looking for permanent housing can face a 5-year-long waiting list. “Warehousing them in senior citizens homes, jails and on the streets is absolutely not acceptable, not to mention not cost-effective,” she says.

Mary Lou Lowry, a Wheaton resident and Vice President of the North/Northwest Suburban Task Force on Supportive Housing for Individuals With Mental Illness, and her husband, Al, are making the trek as well, and they brought Maier on board, knowing his love of cycling.

The trio is traveling along the American Discovery Trail, stopping at hotels and bed & breakfasts. Once they arrive in D.C., they’ll meet with U.S. Senator Roland Burris and other local politicians to champion their cause.

For Maier, the trip is his longest ride ever, and well worth the effort. “I want to share with whoever is going to listen in Washington, D.C.,” he says.

For more information, visit the local NAMI chapter or call 847-716-2252.