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Olympian Clara Hughes rides into Nelson

Olympian Clara Hughes arrived in Nelson after cycling 138.8 kilometres from Grand Forks on Saturday. Children were invited to wear each of her six Olympic medals. - Tamara Hynd
Olympian Clara Hughes arrived in Nelson after cycling 138.8 kilometres from Grand Forks on Saturday. Children were invited to wear each of her six Olympic medals.
— image credit: Tamara Hynd

Olympian Clara Hughes biked directly into downtown Nelson this afternoon after cycling 138 kilometres from Grand Forks today. It was day 72 of Clara's Big Ride and a parade of people were there to join her at Hall Street market by Gerick Cycle and Sidewinders Coffee.

Hughes is a six-time cycling and speed-skating Olympic medalist. She is riding for 110 days as part of the Bell “Let's talk” mental health awareness campaign, a 12,000 bicycle journey around Canada to gear up the conversation about mental health and get on the road to a stigma-free Canada. Hughes will complete the bicycle journey around Canada while supporting local mental health initiatives by community groups, schools and other local organizations in every province and territory.

“Today has been a really good day with the biggest welcome we have had since the start of our ride” said Hughes. “Today's welcome will be the fuel for the next 5000 kilometres.”

She spoke to the energetic crowd encouraging people to know what resources are available in the community if not for yourself, then to be able to help someone who is in need.

“Mental illness is something you can't go through alone,” she said. “It's OK to struggle as struggle is something that makes us human and is the fabric of human beings.”

Depression is an illness Hughes has struggled with in the past and still manages today. Going through depression as a young athlete she tried for two years to over come it on her own saying she was too stubborn to ask for help.

It turned out that therapy was a really big part of her being able to manage depression, “to get through it and get beyond it,” she said.

“I got help from a physiologist and different doctors; I work with psychologists 'til this day, and probably will for the rest of my life.”

Hughes said she had to change a lot of the way she was going about sport and her job.

“I was pushing myself too much and it was a really negative environment that I had to change. Changing my way of thinking that there was only one way to do something; there are many ways to do everything.

“Also diet and exercise; I'm not talking about Olympic sport exercise. I'm talking about regular exercise, going for walks, getting outside, moving my body to stimulate chemical flow and clearing my head is a big important part of coping for me.” Hughes lives in Canmore and said getting out in nature is also important to her.

Hughes is speaking about mental health at a gala event at the Prestige Lakeside Resort tonight.

She is also scheduled to visit L.V. Rogers Secondary School for an engaging talk show style presentation for youth on Monday.

“Being real and honest and being open, [the students] get that and they appreciate that. We try to make it fun and it gives them hope. I try to give them a real dose of what it is like to try to win an Olympic medal. It's not easy. When you're young, sometimes you think it's just easy so I try to dispel these myths about what my reality has been. Students are pretty surprised at the end when they realize, “Wow, you went through that and you still succeeded”.  No matter what you're going through, you can get past it and you can still do great things in life.”

Clara's Big Ride began in Toronto on March 14, as she and her team rode east to the Atlantic coast. Hughes and husband, Peter, and her team of support riders next tackled the 736 kilometres of dirt road cycling the Dempster Highway from Inuvik to Dawson City in five days. They flew to Victoria and have begun riding east across BC. The entire ride will cover 12,000 kilometres and visit 95 Canadian communities, concluding on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Canada Day, July 1 to bring the message to the federal government that Canadians really do care about mental health.

To follow the biking journey, visit Bell.ca/ClarasBigRide.

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