Published on April 25, 2014
CLARA’S BIG WELCOME — Clara Hughes skates on the ice at the Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium on Wednesday moments before speaking about mental health, and moments before she spent about an hour signing autographs, talking to youth, and taking pictures.
Matt Molloy photo
Published on April 25, 2014
CLARA’S BIG RIDE DEPARTS — Clara Hughes departs from the Youth 2000 Centre in Grand Falls-Windsor on Thursday, with the support of those that came out to hear her speak earlier in the morning.
Matt Molloy photo
Hughes: Kids have to know they’re not alone
The power of the people she’s helping has pushed Clara Hughes through some tough times on the Clara’s Big Ride journey...
Clara Hughes, a six-time Canadian Olympic medallist, arrived at the Joe Byrne Memorial Stadium last Wednesday as part of Clara’s Big Ride, and she got there after bicycling over 100 kilometres from Springdale.
The initial thought was Hughes would give a speech, pose for a few pictures, and head back to her hotel for some well deserved rest and relaxation before departing for Gander the following morning.
However, after getting such a welcoming reception from those that came to hear her talk about mental health, there was no way she could leave the rink.
“I was given the option to just say something and leave, but I can’t do that. It’s all about connecting, so if I don’t meet people, I’m not able to hear their story, especially the young ones,” said Hughes to a small scrum of reporters last Wednesday at the Joe. “I want them to come get their picture taken, I’ve signed a bunch of skates today, and I want them to know I’m serious and that I care about what we’re riding for. I want them to feel connected to me, and in turn connect them to the Big Ride, and connect it to mental health.
“So many kids came up to me tonight, teenage girls with tears in their eyes came up saying, ‘What you’re doing for mental health really matters, and it matters to me.’ When I get that feedback I know we’re on the right track.”
Hughes was at the rink for the majority of her welcoming party, and she spent a better part of an hour skating, talking with youth, signing autographs, and posing for pictures.
Her stop in Grand Falls-Windsor didn’t end there, however, as she visited the Youth 2000 Centre the following morning, where she opened up and told her personal story about mental health.
It was then the Canadian icon got a little emotional, and urged the youth that they, too, should be able to open up about their feelings.
“I just think it’s so important to get the conversation on mental health going with Canadians of all ages, especially young Canadians because there’s so much stigma attached to mental illness, and talk about mental health is non-existent,” she said. “It’s something every family struggles with, and those struggles are becoming prevalent in younger and younger Canadians. The earlier we can get them talking about their feelings and what those feelings are, and maybe family situations, I think that will help enormously. I know when I was young we had a lot of dysfunction with substance abuse in my family, and as I grew up with mental illness with my sister and my father, I didn’t know what it was. If we had all talked about it, I think it would have been a heck of a lot easier to get through as individuals and as a family.
“Hopefully, this can make a difference with young Canadians and get them excited about it and really empower them. Like I said tonight (Wednesday) about doing something and seeing what’s out there, if they don’t like what they see to do something themselves.”
However, opening up about personal struggles with mental health isn’t always an easy or comfortable thing to do, especially when it comes to youth.
However, Hughes said there are a multitude of options for young people who want to open up and talk, and all they have to do is step forward and do just that.
“I really talk to kids about feelings, and also my story and me going through depression. I talk about the feelings getting out of control and not knowing why I was crying, but mainly about getting help,” said Hughes. “Knowing that you’re not alone, knowing that there’s someone to talk to, and knowing there are things like Kids Help Phone and there are councilors at school, so you should never, ever feel alone. I talk to kids about seeing a friend who isn’t feeling good, and how they have to ask how they’re doing and maybe asking a teacher for help. Kids have to know they can reach out to each other and let their friends know they’re not alone, and they have a voice when it comes to supporting each other.”
Clara’s Big Ride
Talking about mental health is part of the battle, but when she isn’t sharing her personal story, Hughes is bicycling across Canada to send her message.
She said the moment they got off the ferry in Port aux Basques, the typical Newfoundland and Labrador hospitality started to shine through.
“Since we stepped off the ferry in Port aux Basques, we got on our bikes and rode 165 km that day, and every kilometre of the way I swear nine out of 10 cars honked and waved, and all of the truckers have been good to us along the way. We call it trucker love,” said Hughes, wearing her trademark grin. “We get honks and waves from the big transport trucks and logging trucks, so it’s amazing to see how many people have connected…and that’s what I love about this ride. The Big Ride is for everyone, and I feel like it’s bringing us together in a way that’s really special to me and I hope to all Canadians.
“We’ve ridden 4,400 kilometres in winter, basically, and we had one day riding into Halifax where we wore shorts and I had to buy sunscreen on the road because we didn’t have it in the car,” said Hughes. “Other than that it’s been horrendous, but I feel like it’s perfect for what we’re riding for. We’re riding because so many people are suffering in silence, and I feel if we can push through the elements and not give up, that makes a big statement when it comes to saying mental health matters to me and it matters to Canadians. We have to get the conversation going and this ride is going to keep on rolling no matter what the weather throws at us.”