March 27, 2014 (Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC) – Clara Hughes’ Big Ride across Canada reached Montreal Wednesday afternoon, 13 days after leaving Toronto. Hughes, the only person worldwide to have won multiple medals at both the summer and winter Olympics, made the 102km ride from Cornwall, ON in below-freezing temperatures. Speaking to a crowd of about 60 people, including media and politicians assembled at the Specialized Canada head office, she recalled her start in cycling with the Pedal-Specialized Team sponsored by this magazine.
When she first pedaled up to Specialized’s Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue facilities, Hughes greeted well wishers and took a brief break from the cold in her support bus to warm up before joining the crowd on hand. “We had some tailwinds and some crosswinds today,” said Hughes, talking in the early afternoon about the difficulties of long distance riding in the cold and snow. “I got some windburn on my face,” she admitted. But the main focus of her talk was an uplifting message about overcoming the stigma associated with mental illness.
Hughes talked about her own struggles with mental illness—and questioned her own self-worth–on the way to winning six Olympic medals between speed skating and cycling. “You can do anything,” was her inspirational message.
“We spent the morning with kids in Akwesasne [Mohawk community near Cornwall],” said Hughes, continuing about how she has spoken with some 5,000 youths since leaving Toronto. “We’ve had meetings with many young Canadians; I feel empowered by people believing in me. These kids are generation that escapes the stigma [of mental illness]. They get it!”
Mental illness is a contributing factor with suicides; something that severely affects some First Nations communities. Hughes talked about small northern villages on her Big Ride’s itinerary, places like Kangiqsualujjuaq, QC and nearby Nain, the most northerly settlement in Labrador.
After a rash of suicides in Nain, a program was set up to encourage young men there to learn how to hunt and fish. Some of these young men had never really been out on the land before and have now become proud, contributing members of their community. “They took their hoods off and are now walking with their heads held high,” she said. Hughes and her husband, Peter Guzman, decided to contribute $10,000 toward the purchase of a community freezer for the Nain program.
Sharing the stage with Hughes was her bike, still dripping with melting snow on the Specialized showroom floor. Hughes quipped that normally you don’t want to ride a good bike in the winter, but this time she was making an exception.
The 12,000km ride across Canada is designed to raise awareness for mental illness. It is also to break the silence that surrounds this disease. Rolling along with support vehicles, including a big bus emblazoned with an image of Clara and logos of corporate sponsors, and accompanied by an entourage of other riders and support staff, Hughes seems to be very well equipped. She joked that conditions on the Big Ride compare favorably to what she experienced in her bike racing days: “When you die as a bike racer and go to bike racer heaven, you come here to Clara’s Big Ride.”
Among those turning out to hear Hughes was Dimitrios “Jim” Beis, the mayor of nearby Pierrefonds-Roxboro who joked about how, when he was slimmer, he was an avid cyclist. Beis ended up winning one of four bike helmets being raffled. Beis told Pedal, that despite the busy schedule imposed on him by his office, he now intends to do more cycling this summer.
Karim Nathoo, Specialized Canada’s Director Operations and Finance, welcomed Hughes and all guests to this special day at the company’s headquarters, and spoke about the long and proud relationship the company has shared with Hughes during her storied career.
Catering for the reception at Specialized was provided by Gerard Pennaroya, president of the Montreal-based Specialized Mazda Samson Team that Hughes rode with in 2009. Pennaroya promised a press conference soon regarding his 2014 team, SAS Mazda Macogep Specialized this year. Accompanying him was team member Adrianne Provost – read more about the team here.