July 01, 2014 (Ottawa, ON) – The final celebration of Clara’s Big Ride for Bell Let’s Talk took place in Ottawa today as Clara Hughes, the six-time Canadian Olympian, arrived for Canada Day celebrations following her historic, epic 110-day, 12,000km ride. Hughes visited 105 communities to raise the level of awareness about mental health and reduce the stigma about mental illness across the country.
“Happy Canada Day and thank you everyone for your incredible support! My journey around this great country has shown me that Canadians everywhere are ready to talk about mental health and eager to make a difference,” said Hughes.
“So many wonderful, open and welcoming people, from Canada’s big cities to the small settlements of the North, communities in every province and territory – all sharing the dream of a stigma-free Canada, a place where those who struggle aren’t afraid to ask for help.”
Following her arrival in Ottawa Hughes tweeted THANK YOU CANADA!! It is official the last km has been ridden!! #ClarasBigRide #struggle #joy #relief.
Hughes and her support crew, which included her husband Peter Guzman and riders Bruce Swindlehurst, Mark Walters and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (retired pro road cyclists), began their epic journey nearly four months ago in Toronto back in March with cool temperatures and winter still at hand. At the launch when asked if winter weather could throw her off the tightly-packed itinerary, Hughes responded, “I’m from Winnipeg. What’s a little winter storm?”
Pedalling between 75 to 225 km per day at an average speed of 25 km/hr, Hughes and her team covered every province and territory in the country.
“The irony of this Big Ride is that it hasn’t been about my bike (as hard as that is to say!), it has been the time spent meeting and listening to those who suffer from mental illness and those that work hard in our communities to make it better for others,” she wrote on her ride blog.
While Hughes says all of the communities she stopped in have touched her, she was particularly moved by the North. “Being greeted by some of my friends in Nain who had built me a bike to ride on a sled was a pretty significant moment,” said Hughes – see video here.
Hughes went public with her battle with depression in 2011. Her first episode was after competing at her first Olympic Games in 1996, from which she came home with two bronze medals in cycling. After retiring from sport following the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, she decided she wanted to do more to help reduce the stigma around mental health issues that prevents many Canadians from reaching out for help.
The multi-decorated athlete shared her past struggles with depression along the way claiming, “…talking openly about mental illness, learning that we are all affected in some way, just destroys the stigma. It’s the first step in moving mental health forward. Now, let’s keep talking Canada and achieve the world’s first nation free of the stigma around mental illness!”
Hughes, 41, distinguished herself in the sporting world as both a cyclist and a speed skater, becoming first person to win multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Games. She won two bronze medals in cycling (RR and ITT) at the 1996 Atlanta Games. In speed skating Hughes also picked up one gold and one silver medal at Turin in 2006, together with a bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002 and another bronze in Vancouver in 2010.
Her Atlanta medals were the first Olympic medals in road cycling for a Canadian woman following Steve Bauer’s silver at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Her two Atlanta medals were part of five cycling medals at those Games for Canada including Curt Harnett’s bronze on the track in the men’s Sprint, Brian Walton’s track silver in the men’s Points Race and Alison Sydor’s silver in the women’s MTB xc race.
Hughes rode for Specialized-Lululemon in 2012 and competed at the London 2012 Games in the ITT where she finished 5th. She has also distinguished herself working with the charity group, Right to Play. Among her many honours, Hughes has been named to both the Order of Manitoba and as an Officer of the Order of Canada.