What impressed me when six time Olympic medalist, Clara Hughes entered the school gymnasium, at Aqsarniit Middle School in Iqaluit was how easily and naturally she connected with the 300 Kids in the school gymnasium and how just how easily she engaged them what is still for many, a difficult and stigmatized topic -mental health.
Iqaluit and Northern Canada were roughly the halfway point on the Bell Canada sponsored Clara’s Big Ride”, a cycling journey of more than 12 thousand kilometers and 110 days across all of Canada to raise awareness on mental health to remind all of us, where ever we live, that we can make a difference in combating Mental health because we all have the ability to at least “talk about it” and by talking about it, we remove the stigmatization.
The Arctic Children’s Foundation is pleased to join the conversation. We hope we can do much more, including work with and support other community, Territorial and National organizations in combating mental health in general and among our young population specifically.
It was gratifying to watch this great athlete connect and communicate with the youth around Iqaluit. She talked about the thrill of racing with the kids in Alex, as she and she husband peter biked every road and in the community.
In the school auditorium, she shared her not only her message but also her medals passing them around so kids could feel a real Olympic medal, but even put them around their own neck and imagine themselves someday standing on a podium with their own gold medal as the national anthem plays.
She had a message that surely some students can relate to. She recalled her own life as a troubled teen in Winnipeg moving closer to the edge of substance abuse, when she discovered her own inner strength, and resolve and expressed it through speed skating and later cycling. It was a powerful message and it went far beyond the youth. As an adult, fresh from winning a gold Olympic medal, she was again suffering mental illness- this time battled severe depression. She overcame by “talking about it”.
For ACYF, Clara’s Big Ride is our big deal. This was not a mere whistle stop on a cross-country campaign. She has taken time to visit all four Inuit regions; her message and presence in Nunatsiavut and Nunavik were as powerful and popular as Iqaluit.
She also visited Yellowknife and Rankin Inlet and then depart from Inuvik, on the 735 kilometer ride along the Dempster Highway to Whitehorse Yukon, a tough ride on a gravel road at the best of times, but even more arduous in the mud and muck of the spring runoff.
Bell Canada is sponsoring Clara’s Big Ride, and during the Iqaluit stop, Bell Canada announced a million dollar five year mental health public awareness program on mental health.
The first recipient is the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line, which received 68 thousand dollars. The support for the help line is greatly appreciated- that help line has been there for the past 25 years—and had always ensured that when someone in crisis is ready to talk, there is someone there who listens.
ACYF also appreciates that we shared the benefits of the Clara’s as Concert Night in Iqaluit with the Embrace Life Council.
Clara Hughes tells every audience, “We are all in this together.” A simple statement and one we all can relate to. Let’s all continue to put more effort into winning the battle.
Whit Fraser, Chair
MORE IMAGES FROM THE EVENT
*image credits go to Vincent Desrosiers