Spend five minutes with Clara Hughes and you will be inspired by her energy, her passion and her story.
Last weekend, Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores), along with the communities of Oshawa and Whitby, was privileged to be a focal point for Clara’s Big Ride in connection with the Bell Let’s Talk mental health initiative. Both Whitby and Oshawa were highlighted community stops for Clara on her 12,000 km ride across Canada.
On Friday, March 21, Ontario Shores hosted a free community skate with Clara to celebrate her arrival and the following morning the Abilities Centre held a special ceremony before she left on the next leg of her journey. Before heading north to Peterborough, she rode south to Ontario Shores to meet with patients and staff, many who had painted and signed a special blue bike that will be on display at the hospital.
They were wonderful events, supported by political leaders, community leaders, mental health and service agencies, media and the community. The Bell support team members were professional and had the road show down to an exact science.
It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of the ride from both a logistical and physical endurance perspective but also the long-lasting impact it will have in reducing the stigma of mental health. I think about getting up each morning riding between 90 and 200 km almost every day and taking part in morning and evening community events and how taxing that must be, especially riding during this unseasonably cold month of March. But Clara arrives wearing her recognizable smile and contagious enthusiasm. Young and old swarmed Clara for a chance to meet her and always accommodating Clara didn’t disappoint.
It was the first time I heard Clara tell her own story but it was one that had similar threads in stories shared by other celebrities who have visited Ontario Shores. Struggling with the separation of her parents, Clara began to channel her energy and focus on a negative and destructive path, experimenting with alcohol.
Not fully understanding the clinical side to the feelings of depression she was experiencing, she thought she could find happiness in her athletic achievements. But the numerous medals and trophies didn’t take away the pain. She was fortunate to catch that attention of a national team doctor who realized Clara was struggling with mental health issues. Although she didn’t initially embrace and accept that she needed help, Clara did get to a point of acceptance and understanding and the rest is history.
Today, she is committed to being the voice of the voiceless to increase awareness and understanding of mental illness and reduce stigma. Her ride has just begun and will end in the nation’s capital on Canada Day. I encourage everyone to follow her ride, share and support her ride through social media and keep the conversation going for years to come. The movement doesn’t end July 1, its momentum is too powerful and important to stop.