Six-time Canadian Olympic speed skating and cycling medalist, Clara Hughes rode through Red Deer last Saturday on her 12,000 km trek across the country and stopped at Parkland Mall to speak to an audience of around 100 people.
‘Clara’s Big Ride for Bell Let’s Talk’ aims to help grow awareness, acceptance and action towards mental health issues to create a stigma-free Canada.
Hughes will visit 95 communities along her ride and hopes that by reaching into communities both large and small in every province and territory in Canada, she will be able to encourage Canadians to be part of the conversation about mental health and help to end the stigma around mental illness.
“This ride is all about breaking down the walls surrounding mental health and about bringing communities together to have a conversation,” said Hughes. “It is not about sport or speed, it is all about mental health.”
Hughes shared her personal experiences with mental health issues and spoke on her struggles with depression. She told the crowd of her ongoing challenges within her own life as she struggles to cope with her mental health issues and depression.
“When someone looks like they are down and like they could use a hand, you can save a life just by asking someone how they are doing and if you can show them where to get help – which someone did for me when I was struggling with depression – then you can help that much more.
“And I’ve seen it with my sister as she struggled with bipolar disorder as well as my father when he struggled his whole life and through this way you can make a huge difference in your community and your province. Never forget that we are not alone and we are all in this together and remember that this fight connects us more than any other joy or any other Olympic medal.”
Her cross-country tour has also stopped at a number of schools along the way, in which Hughes hopes to empower youth to understand what mental health means to them and how they can support others who may be suffering.
Hughes and her team also made Judy Scott, manager of Children and Youth Services for Family Services of Central Alberta an honourary member of Clara’s Big Ride by presenting her with a jacket, after which Scott presented Hughes with a gift on behalf of the organization.
“I just think it’s really important to let everyone know that it starts with each and everyone of us, and that mental health and illness is something that affects each and everyone of us, whether we are affected by it personally or it’s someone that we know and love,” said Hughes. “I think it’s time that we start talking about it more and it starts by getting more involved and understanding what’s available in your community in terms of resources.”
Hughes spoke to the crowd of her background and what inspired her to take the journey to her own Olympic medals.
“When I was 16-years-old I saw speed skating for the first time in the Calgary Olympics and it gave me focus and gave me something to live for and dream about,” explained Hughes, who is originally from Winnipeg.
“When I started I was not an athlete by any means.”
Hughes also spoke of her ties to Red Deer, with her teammate Jeremy Wotherspoon, commenting on how he was the “Most beautiful speed skater” she had ever seen, and how proud she was to see Wotherspoon’s younger sister Danielle make her Olympic debut in Sochi.