Why I Ride: Jake Eliopoulos’ Story

Jake Eliopoulos was a bright young star on the rise, drafted into Major League Baseball; he was a top prospect and a left-handed pitcher that showed a lot of promise.

Second-round draft pick for the Toronto Blue Jays, a rarity in the sport of baseball – A left-handed pitcher, throwing low 90’s with a quick arm. Jake Eliopoulos was facing the opportunity of a lifetime, a dream that many would attempt, and only so few would experience. On the outside, it seemed like Jake had everything, a burgeoning career in Major League Baseball, amazing friends and a loving, devoted family, inside, Jake was struggling with mental illness. Raised in Toronto and Newmarket, Ontario, Jake’s journey did not begin in Canada; Jake was a Ukrainian native born in 1991, and his life truly changed when he met Lea and Jim Eliopoulos. After many years of trying to conceive, despite the use of fertility treatments, Lea and Jim would rely on adoption to start a family. The desire for a family took them to an orphanage in Lviv, Ukraine, where they met Jake in 1993,Lea loved him instantly, I couldn’t get him out of there fast enough ”.

The Eliopoulos’ took Jake home to Canada and began their family. However, despite a new and loving home, Lea noticed something different about Jake. As a toddler, he was diagnosed with an attachment disorder, at the age of four Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, finally at age seven Tourette Syndrome. “Despite the setbacks he excelled in life at a strong pace” she said proudly. Baseball kept Jake balanced, the love of the game allowed father and son to develop a bond, “Jake ,and I were connected that way” expressed Jim. Baseball was always close to Jim’s heart; he played, for the Canadian men’s baseball team during the 1984 Olympic Games, he was a bullpen catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, and now he could share his wisdom with his son.

In 2009, just before turning eighteen, Jake was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays. However, contract negotiations fell through, and the plan was for Jake to attend school at Chipola College, in Florida, which had produced the likes of Russell Martin and Jose Bautista. He would complete his education, train and come back stronger to re-enter the draft. The stress away from home proved to be too much for Jakes; his performance was dwindling, he was struggling on and off the field, it was the first time he had experienced a perceived setback around baseball. Jake would move back home after only attending one year at Chipola. Already depressed, Jake would soon find out he needed Tommy John surgery, as a result of tendon damage in his throwing arm. After the surgery, Jake had become noticeably more depressed, as though a “dark cloud” followed him; feeling like he lost everything, baseball didn’t seem to matter anymore. Throughout his life, Jake managed his challenges with aplomb. The deep depression that appeared in his late teens, however, proved too much to overcome as he would attempt to take his life four times and on April 29th, 2013 the fifth attempt would be his last.

In June 2013, shortly after Jake’s passing, Lea, Jim, brother, Derek and sister, Zoe immersed themselves in the CMHA Ride Don’t Hide Program. Team Jake formed, for family and friends to unite and show support for their loss and mental illness, they have participated each year, since 2013, to honor Jake’s memory and the cause. Team Jake has raised over $70,000 for mental health awareness and services. “What the community should know about Ride Don’t Hide is that it’s a place where people can come together and share their stories and struggles with mental health and know that there are others who are struggling as well.” The family is determined to make a difference, by spreading the word on mental health and eliminating the stigma surrounding it. Jake will forever be in the memories of those he touched so deeply, “the shooting star that he was, wasn’t here for long, but burnt ever so brightly.”

This is why Team Jake rides, why will you ride?