Big Ride for a Big Cause

One might think that winning six Olympic medals in two sports speaks for itself. Not for Clara Hughes, who believes there’s still so much more to talk about.

The only Olympian to win multiple medals at both summer and winter Olympics, Hughes is now traversing the country to talk not about her accomplishments, but about mental health.

She began Clara’s Big Ride, part of Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk campaign on March 14 and will soon be in the North. The 110-day journey will see her ride over 12,000 kms and visit 95 communities, including 15 days spent in the North.

Hughes’ aim is to get Canadians talking about mental health and wellness, and break down the stigma associated with mental illness. Having struggled with depression herself, she is using her own story as inspiration to stimulate discussion and action on mental health issues.

Hughes will arrive in Dawson via Inuvik on May 10. Whitehorse will welcome her at the airport late afternoon on May 12. Public events will begin on May 14.

Planning for Hughes’ visit is headed up by volunteer community champion Patti Balsillie, under the banner “Whitehorse is Talking.”

Balsillie explains that the committee has representative from organizations and agencies that directly serve people with mental health issues. The committee is also supported by many workplace wellness organizations.

“There’s a whole movement of wellness in the workplace that’s largely supported by governments or HR departments of industry. Their unions and committees wanted to be involved.”

It is fitting, since work occupies such a prominent place in our mental health, Balsillie explains.

“Workplace committees come with resources and a lot of passion to take their mandate to wellness in the workplace and connecting it to mental illness and breaking some of the stigma around talking about ‘I don’t feel mentally well right now’.”

The mission to reduce stigma around mental health is at the heart of Hughes’ ride.

Sunny Patch is the spokesperson for Northwestel, a sponsor of the northern leg of the tour.

“Bell uses the term ‘let’s talk’, and Clara really believes in that,” Patch says.

“She is passionate about mental health and to hear her talk is truly inspiring.”

Part of Hughes’ mission is to get people talking, and to keep them talking. As Patch says, “So, Clara’s going to come to town, and that’s great and a way for the public to meet a real Canadian champion and a great way to get people talking about mental health.”

But what’s the long term vision?

“Once she leaves town, we’re hoping that through work that Northwestel and other community organizers can do, that the public out there is talking mental health that it’s top of mind and being discussed.”

For Hughes, talking and engaging with youth is fundamental to the ongoing discussion, which is why all the stops along her tour include time with local schools. A school event is planned in Dawson, and an event for all Whitehorse schools will be held at Vanier Catholic Secondary.

The public is invited to walk and talk with Clara Hughes at a public event starting at noon May 14. Participants from all walks of life are invited to gather at Shipyards Park and make their way down the waterfront to the wharf at Main Street.

The event will be a way for the community to start the conversation about mental health. Once at the wharf, Hughes will speak to the crowd, and refreshments will be available.

In the afternoon, Kwanlin Dun First Nation will host Hughes at its new healing centre at Jackson Lake. The evening will see a community barbecue hosted by the local cycling and athletics community.

For updates and more details on these community events, check

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