Clara Hughes remarkable effort in the fight against mental health to include cross-country ride

One of the first Canadian female athletes to openly talk about mental health, two-sport star Clara Hughes is a tremendous and positive inspiration. As a spokesperson for Bell and their annual Let’s Talk campaign (launched in 2011), she is spreading an empowering message in a remarkable cross-country effort.

The fourth annual campaign, held on January 28, 2014, was highlighted by a special skate hosted by the Canadian Mental Health Association at Clara Hughes Recreational Park in Winnipeg. As the campaign involves Bell making a five cent donation towards mental health initiatives for every text, phone call and Facebook share on January 28, 2014, Hughes impact has been integral towards its success. In 2013, a total of 92 million tweets, calls and texts were generated.

Appearing on the set of CTV News (Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/ClaraHughes_)

Appearing on the set of CTV News (Image obtained from: https://twitter.com/ClaraHughes_)

Following in the footsteps of other remarkable women such as Ashley Gilbank (who rollerbladed for mental health) and Angella Goran (who cycled for the environment), who ventured cross country, Hughes shall participate in a cross-country big ride across Canada. Promoted as Clara’s Big Ride, the heroic campaign begins on March 14, 2014 in Toronto. Having trained for the last six months, she shall be joined by her husband Peter Guzman on the trip.

The native of Winnipeg was one of those rare and special athletes that had the unique distinction of being the only Canadian athlete to win medals in both the Summer and Winter Games for Canada. As a cyclist and a speed skater, she has cemented as one of Canada’s greatest athletes.

Despite such heroic accomplishments, Hughes had her own battles with depression as a younger athlete. Since the London 2012 Summer Games was her swan song, she has focused on helping to eradicate existing stigmas surrounding mental health. It was the inspiration of a doctor at the London 2012 games that provided her with the inspiration to start getting better. Coach Eric Van den Eynde was another positive influence.

With one of four Canadians suffering from some type of mental illness, she is also working with youngsters and teenagers, sharing her story, hoping that they shall be the generation to bring about positive change.

January 28, 2014: Taking part in the ceremonial face-off at Air Canada Centre prior to the Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning match. Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and Lightning captain Martin St. Louis join Hughes at centre ice (Photo credit: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

January 28, 2014: Taking part in the ceremonial face-off at Air Canada Centre prior to the Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning match. Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and Lightning captain Martin St. Louis join Hughes at centre ice (Photo credit: Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

Scheduled to take 110 days, there will also be 82 community champions. These champions shall help organize welcoming committees for Hughes when she makes stops in the designated areas on the ride. With the goal of helping to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental illness, there is no question that Hughes shall receive a warm welcome throught the vast Canadian landscape.

Map of Clara Hughes journey (Map route obtained from: http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/claras-big-ride/ )

Map of Clara Hughes journey (Map route obtained from: http://letstalk.bell.ca/en/claras-big-ride/ )

Venturing eastbound into sections of Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada, the next leg of her journey takes her through Northern Quebec and northwest across Canada’s three territories: Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and Yukon.

An ambitious part of the trek shall include crossing the Arctic Circle on the legendary Dempster Highway. From there, she will head towards Vancouver Island and travel the roads of the Prairies, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The final leg of the journey comes through Northern Ontario before the epic cross-country ride for mental health awareness reaches its magical ending on Canada Day, July 1, 2014, in the nation’s capital of Ottawa.

Speaking with Order of Hockey in Canada recipient on Hockey Night in Canada while donning the Do It for Daron jersey (Still obtained from: YouTube)

Speaking with Order of Hockey in Canada recipient on Hockey Night in Canada while donning the Do It for Daron jersey (Still obtained from: YouTube)

It is only fitting that Hughes courageous journey reaches its end in Ottawa. Ironically, Goran and Gilbank currently reside in Ottawa. Another strong connection to Ottawa is with the noble Do It for Daron fund. Honoring the life of the late Daron Richardson, DIFD works towards mental health research while also participating in fund raising events. Gilbank’s cross-country cause (called Skate4Life) named DIFD as its beneficiary.

Of note, Hughes had the opportunity to participate in the Ottawa Senators’ contest in 2011 which helped raise funds for DIFD. Not only did she participate in the ceremonial puck drop, she got to meet Daron’s mother, Stephanie, who is highly active in the cause. When Hughes won the 2011 Chrono Gatineau bike race (located across the river from Ottawa), not only did she wear purple (the official color of DIFD), but she dedicated the win to Daron’s memory.

With DIFD having touched the hearts of so many in Ottawa, it has certainly endeared Hughes and her humanitarian efforts to many of the capital’s residents. The courage of Hughes has not only made her a role model to Canadians but a positive influence in those struggling with mental health. For every life that her message of hope has inspired, it sets a positive example which can help to do more than potentially save a life, but inspire and empower it to excel and engage.

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