How Two Wheels, Blindness and a Black Dog Changed a Life

Oliver Zimmermann was in big trouble. He just didn’t know it. Even after riding his bike into the back of a car (ironically outside a blind school), he was still unaware he was living in a dark, lonely place. His problem remained that way – hidden away in secret – for ten more years, until another bike and a 500km ride took him in a new direction.

Looking back, since his carefree boyhood in Johannesburg, Oliver’s life had been circling… often aimlessly. It was true, at times he had zapped through life on two wheels – in the zone – but sometimes just one wheel carried him, or more frequently, none. Despite a happy family, successful career and his trusty bike, his life was slowly disappearing, down the dark hole of depression.

According to Beyond Blue, “It’s estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. And in any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety.” Oliver had become, one in a million.

In Oliver’s words, “I’d probably had it long before, maybe even back in my twenties. I knew something was wrong, in the background, but didn’t realise what it was. Depression isn’t something you just wake up with … it doesn’t work like that. It sits in the shadows, creeps out of the bushes. It’s always there. And it jumps on you in unexpected moments.”

Mental illness is more common than you think. One of every five people you know, will entertain the ‘Black Dog’ sometime, during their life. And for those people, the challenge of bouncing back and lifting themselves out of their sadness, is too great. It’s easier to stay there – as was the case for Oliver – for far too long.

But what’s all this got to do with bikes? A lot. Especially for Oliver. “Without my bike, all I would have had was a cycle of depression,” he said in his YouTube Talk on Purpose, “Evolution on Two Wheels.”  Thankfully, that same bike helped him gain the courage to “turn the corner, climb up that hill, get out of that valley, look over those walls that walled me in… and look ahead.” To embark on a new direction in life.

So where did it start? In 2015, on a crazy 5-day 500km bike ride with his wife, Irma, across Thailand – fundraising for the charity “Hands Across the Water.” Neither of them had ridden, for years. Both were juggling life, work and the black dog in the house, so they weren’t even properly prepared. But something changed in him. He began to feel he had a purpose.

“So how did cycling change my life? It taught me to follow my passions. It taught me to ‘feel’ life more” Oliver said. But as it turned out, getting back to cycling was only the first step – the mere tip of the iceberg.

When he returned, The Slow School of Business and their Talk on Purpose program joined the ride. Based in Melbourne, Slow School is an unconventional business school that adopts a ‘learn by doing’ approach to building purpose-driven businesses and lives. Perfect for Oliver, and his dog.

Not for the fainthearted, the intensive public speaking and storytelling course helps you unearth your passion and purpose. That nugget is then shared in a short, live presentation – a daunting prospect for anyone, but a courageous act for someone with depression.

He nailed it. “What were the lessons I learnt? Do what you love to do, not what you have to do. Excuses are simply an escape and most importantly, keep pedalling. It stops you from falling off.”

While he admits he doesn’t have all the answers, it has allowed him to re-inhabit an empty space within himself… that had been lost in the darkness. And he’s started seeing the world differently and acknowledging the cycle of depression he was living.

But best of all, thanks to his family and two wheels, Oliver’s life has brightened. He’s now looking ahead… and avoiding parked cars, in front of blind schools. 

About the Author:

Di Mace is a freelance story-based brand copywriter, strategist and purpose-digger. Brands hire her to transform their meaningless messages into heartfelt content and stories centred on culture, customers and core values.

And as a corporate marketer-turned-copywriter, she’s equal parts strategist and writer, so clever phrases aren’t all she cares about. She believes creating a brand that is meaningful to your ‘right people’ comes from knowing your purpose and that authentic customer experiences fuel the legacy your brand leaves. Find her at www.wordswords.com.au

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