Clara Hughes is riding across Canada for mental health awareness. I was invited to join her for a day, and share my story of struggle with depression. Joining Clara and her team on the ride from Portage la Prairie to Winnipeg, was a great experience for me. However, I didn’t realize just how eye opening it would be until I was right there; participating, listening, and even suffering a little bit.
Riding with Clara, Peter (her husband), and Ina (her good friend and former cycling teammate/competitor) helped me grasp the magnitude -both physical and mental- of their pursuit across Canada.
I rode a mere 86km in three and a half hours, drafting the entire time, and for just one day. For the last 20 minutes of the ride, all I could do was focus on Ina’s wheel ahead of me; I was swerving a little bit, hoping Clara next to me wasn’t noticing. I counted the minutes that passed until we arrived. I had become very quiet. I was exhausted and I didn’t want to complain or say anything negative (as I had only ridden a few hours, not a few months like Clara and Peter, or a few weeks like Ina!). When we finished the ride, we were soaked from the pouring rain. We were tired from the headwind that accompanied us the entire 86km. I had jumped into their cross-Canada tour for one of their shortest days of riding. Some days they ride over 200km.
The sheer physical demand of this cross-Canada ride is unimaginable to me. Yet on top of being physically taxed, Clara is reaching out to everyone she comes across, day in and day out, a remarkable feat. Sharing and listening to all the ups and downs of Canadians’ struggles is powerful and compelling. I am so amazed by Clara’s pursuit of openness and healing I feel she promotes through her actions. As someone who has dealt with depression, I am thankful that Clara is strong enough not only to share her story, but also encourage others to do the same. I believe she truly is riding the stigmas associated with mental health.
On top of my one day of cycling, Clara gave me the platform to share, for the first time publically, my struggles. For two years after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, I battled with depression.
For myself, I struggled to acknowledge my own depression. The stigma of mental health prevented me from realizing I needed help. I though I was just sad, even though I cried every day for two years straight. I became very isolated. It was difficult for others to be around me, and I knew it. I didn’t want others to be bothered by me, so I withdrew.
I was lucky to have sport; training and racing were huge in getting me through this time. I was also fortunate enough to have a group of people around me that encouraged me to get help. One of my friends knew of a good psychologist, and he organized for me to meet with her. Without his help, or the help of this psychologist, I don’t know how long it would have taken for me to move forward with my condition. Another friend had me over once a week to make dinner together, and watch comedies (laughter is the best medicine after all, isn’t’ it?!).
Clara also reached out to me. She invited me out to visit her, and cycle with her. It meant a lot to have these friends reach out and support me, even though I couldn’t fully recognize or express my appreciation for them at the time. My depression created a haze over my life, and it was hard to see all the good things people were doing to help me.
Clara’s Big Ride is inspiring to me. It brings hope. Clara is not only a person who has herself struggled with depression; she has been able to recognize it in other people and get help for them. I think this is why she is such a good representative of the mental health awareness in Canada—she has experience on both sides of these illnesses.
Thank you Clara for giving me the strength and opportunity to share my story.
May the wind be at your back for these last kilometers to Ottawa!
Follow Clara and Clara’s Big Ride:
twitter: @ClaraHughes_ and #ClarasBigRide #GrandTourClara