Nick Danforth of Lewiston just wanted to go for a ride. It had been a year since his father’s suicide in 2015 and he thought he’d hop on his Harley-Davidson Rocker C and get some air.

Nick Danforth sits on his motorcycle last week in front of his home in Lewiston. He started the Pain to Power Ride for Suicide Awareness, an annual motorcycle ride that raises money for families of suicide victims. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Danforth reached out to a friend, then posted on Facebook to see if anyone else wanted to join them.

“I lost my dad, and my buddy lost his brother (to suicide),” he said. “So we both ride bikes and I said ‘Let’s get a ride together.’ I put it on Facebook so he could invite a few of his friends and I invited a few of mine, but it was public, so then it just blew up.” 

They met at the Auburn Mall parking lot, expecting about 50 bikes. Instead, they had 226 bikes show up and almost 500 people, accompanied by three news channels. Even John Jenkins, former mayor of Lewiston, was in attendance. Since then, the annual Pain to Power Ride for Suicide Awareness has fostered a growing following each year, raising money for those whose lives have been irrevocably altered by suicide.

The proceeds from this year’s ride were donated to the Maine Veterans Project. 

While Danforth is not a veteran, he thinks what they do “is definitely taken for granted. They don’t get the recognition they deserve. They come back (from service) and they’re forgotten about. It’s hard for them to even get health insurance or (find) a place to live. Other people can get that stuff just like that and it drives me nuts.

“That’s why this year I wanted to make sure that we gave back to the vets, especially after I saw the whole Afghan thing. Somebody has to stand up and say ‘Yeah the vets are still important to us.’”

The first ride for suicide awareness was the catalyst to Danforth’s journey of community service. A self-described “big empathist,” Danforth was born and raised in Lewiston. The father of three, he operates his own cannabis company.

His ride, which celebrated six years in September, has become a tradition, something he’s happy to see has grown into something bigger than himself and what he was thinking on that day he asked his friend to go for a ride.

“I don’t look at what I do as anything special. To me, it’s just helping people. For me that’s kind of normal,” he said. 

Danforth grew up poor. He got his first job on a farm at 13,  plowing fields, saving up to buy shoes for school. His desire to help those around him is something he tries to instill in his three sons, ages 4, 9 and 15. Last year, Danforth worked with the Auburn PAL Center to donate over 125 meals to needy families in the community during the holidays, delivering them with his family.

“I feel like you have to teach your kids gratitude,” he said. 

“That way they’re happy with what they have and not always chasing what they don’t, and that’s really hard to do. So I figured the easiest way to do it is show them why they should be happy for what they have.”

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