Students and fans who turned out to support the Red Deer College Kings and Queens last Saturday were treated to a visit from a very special guest.
Two-time Olympic speed skater Anastasia Bucsis of Calgary made the trip out to Red Deer last weekend to speak to high school and college students about the importance of maintaining their mental health ahead of tip-off on the Queens game as part of the CCAA’s nation-wide Make Some Noise for Mental Health Campaign.
“It’s a difficult conversation to have. There’s so much stigma, unfortunately, attached to mental health issues and I think pairing it with athletics is such a good vehicle to have that difficult conversation,” said Bucsis, who has been a long-time advocate for mental health.
Bucsis, 27, has been competing in speed skating for 23 years. Over that time she has faced struggles with anxiety. She was diagnosed with clinical depression in 2013.
“I think that as athletes we’re kind of programmed to go bigger, faster, stronger, harder. You don’t admit to having any faults or any weaknesses. When a bunch of athletes and people who want to further this discussion come together, I think that’s making the whole community a lot better,” she said.
During her time at the college, Bucsis spoke to female high school basketball players and was around during and after the games to sign autographs and pose for photos with students to promote good mental health.
“It’s absolutely a difficult conversation to have,” said Bucsis, noting that mental illness affects one in five Canadians.
“It’s one of the leading illnesses in this country and oftentimes the most misunderstood and silence really furthers that stigma.”
The Olympian’s visit also helped to wrap up RDC’s week-long ‘take some time’ campaign, which encourages students to take a minute to think about how they manage their own stress levels, which can be a huge factor in mental well-being.
Bucsis said that taking the step to speak about her own struggles with mental illness publicly wasn’t an easy thing to do.
“It makes you feel very, very vulnerable. I think as human beings, whether you’re an athlete or not that’s not a very comfortable feeling,” she said, noting that she has now found a place in her life where she can recognize that having the conversation was worth it.
“I’m at a place where I can celebrate the struggles and the triumphs. I realized that we come together every two years and watch summer and winter Olympians come together and celebrate their victories but it’s just as important to take a step back and know we all struggle and we’re all human. We’re in this together.”
Over the course of her speed skating career, Bucsis has represented Canada in long track speed skating at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In 2013, Bucsis came out publicly at the Calgary Gay Pride Parade.
Just before the Queens’ game Bucsis also announced that Kings Guard Spencer Klassen was the winner of RBC’s Make $150 Count bursary, which goes to a local charity or project.
Klassen said the money would go towards his team’s Black Top project, which will see Kings players host an outdoor basketball clinic somewhere in the community and use the proceeds to refurbish a court in Red Deer.