Shattering the stigma

Times-Herald Staff
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One of the most decorated Olympians in Canadian history is coming to Moose Jaw to speak about her struggle with mental illness.

Canadian Olympic athlete Clara Hughes speaks during an announcement in Ottawa, Tuesday September 21, 2010. Hughes will be in Moose Jaw on Sunday and Monday speaking about mental illness and her 100 day Big Ride trek across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyl

Clara Hughes, a six-time Olympic medalist in speed skating and cycling, is tied with fellow Winnipeg native Cindy Klassen for the most Olympic medals by a Canadian. Despite her success, however, Hughes has struggled with depression — and since her retirement, she has become an advocate for eliminating the stigma around mental illness through Bell Let's Talk.

For the last 11 weeks Hughes has taken her message on the road with Clara's Big Ride, an over 110 day bike ride visiting 95 communities across the country. On Sunday she will be sharing her message with Moose Jaw residents at the Big Ride Community BBQ at Wakamow-Kiwanis speed skating oval. The event runs from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and will feature talks from Hughes and Chief Alan Lye, of 15 Wing Moose Jaw, who has also suffered with mental illness.

"It's about being seen and going from community to community and telling people you don't need to be ashamed of this," said Captain Susan Magill, 15 Wing Public Affairs Officer, about the Big Ride. "This is not something we need to hide. Hiding this is not going to help heal it. You need to be open about it and share it. There should be no stigma or shame attached to mental health."

The event, which has found support from several sponsors, including the Canadian Mental Health Association and 15 Wing Moose Jaw will be a chance for people to learn more about mental health issues, but will also be a fun event, with performances by Moose Jaw's Megan Nash, Ursa Maja and Chris Edwards.

"We are piggy backing on to say, 'yes it's important' and it's especially important to us because we put people in very difficult mental and emotional states as a part of their job," explained Magill. "When they come home they do have issues and they do need to work things out...The best thing you do in regard to healing is stand up and speak and get it out."

Hughes will also speak on Monday at 10:30 a.m. at Peacock Collegiate for the school's over 700 students.

"I think it's good for the kids to see someone who has been successful as Clara has and whose had her own struggles with mental health issues," said Rod Johnston, a Peacock Collegiate counselor. 

Hughes will conclude her 12,000 km and 110 day trek across the country on Canada Day at Parliament Hill. 

Nathan Frank can be reached at 306-691-1263.

Organizations: Big Ride, Canadian Mental Health Association

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Winnipeg

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