Clara's Big Ride descends on Wakamow

Nathan Liewicki
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Six-time Olympic medallist Clara Hughes high fives Roque Murray just before slipping one of her medals around his neck as Carl Mitchell, a member of Clara's Big Ride, smiles and Chloe Berger waits to receive another of Hughes' medals in Wakamow Valley on Sunday. Hughes was in Moose Jaw to raise awareness and speak about mental health.

Hughes shares her ties to mental health

Six-time Olympic medallist Clara Hughes churned out a new career high Sunday.

For the first time in her 41 years, the Winnipeg native cycled more than 200 kilometres in one day.

“Even with all the Olympic training I did for cycling, for speed skating and all the bike touring I've done, I've never ridden over 200 km,” Hughes told reporters Sunday evening. “I've ridden 200 km, but I've never cracked the double century. So (Sunday) was an epic day.”

The last stretch of Hughes’ 223-km marathon cycling day, which started in Saskatoon, ended when she came down Home Street East and into Wakamow Valley where a throng of enthusiasts – some battering thunder sticks – welcomed her to the Friendly City.

In fact, Sunday marked the first time Hughes had ever been to Moose Jaw.

“I've never been here. This is the first time,” said Hughes. “I haven't been to every city in Canada, so (this ride) been really special. So it was really cool rolling into a new town.”

Although it was her first time in Moose Jaw, it was day 87 of Hughes’ 110-day cross-Canada bike ride to raise awareness about mental health and the stigmatism surrounding it.

Even after a long day of cycling, Hughes took to a stage in front of hundreds of people who came to see her to share her story and thoughts about mental health.

“The stigma is something we created. It's not something from a textbook. It's not something that is chemical,” Hughes told the Wakamow Valley crowd. “It's something that we allow to live and we can make it (disappear) by our actions, our attitudes and our ability to have compassion, understanding and patience with people that are struggling.”

Listening to Hughes talk about mental health were two representatives from the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Swift Current branch: Christina Wharton and Ruth Smith, director of the branch.

Before Hughes took the stage, Smith and Wharton told the Times-Herald they were looking forward to what Hughes had to say.

“I’m looking forward to hearing about the impact she has had on so many people,” said Wharton.

Smith concurred with her colleague, but noted she personally thinks more needs to be done to address mental health in older people.

“I think younger people are more open-minded and there is less stigma from them,” said Smith. “I find there’s a bigger stigma toward older people (with mental health issues).”

That being said, mental illness does not affect only a certain age range, and that is one of the reasons Clara’s Big Ride is taking place – to start the conversation.

“The more we talk about it, I think the less it's going to be an uncommon thing, and the more people are going to accept it as a sickness,” said Hughes.

Furthering the conversation about mental health would also provide people with a greater ability to learn about mental illnesses and where they can get the help they need.

“I went through depression as a young athlete, but also I have a family history with mental illness with my father and with my sister, so it's something that hits as close to home as possible,” said Hughes. “It's something that matters to me because I have friends, teammates and so many people in my life struggle as well, and so many people doing so in silence.”

Clara’s Big Ride is just a just another step – albeit a big step – toward expanding that conversation.

Throughout the more than 8,250 km she has already cycled since beginning her journey in Toronto on March 14, the support has been more than Hughes expected. She still has approximately 2,700 km to ride until she winds up in Ottawa on Canada Day, but knows the support will only increase along the way.

Nathan Liewicki can be reached at 306-691-1256 or follow him on Twitter @liewicks

Organizations: Big Ride, Cross-Canada, Canadian Mental Health Association Christina Wharton and Ruth Smith Times-Herald

Geographic location: Wakamow Valley, Moose Jaw, Winnipeg Saskatoon Friendly Canada Swift Current Toronto Ottawa

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