An inspiration

Frank Gale
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Clara Hughes leaves an impression with young people in Stephenville

Teenager Sarah Rotchford was impressed at how inspirational Clara Hughes was when the six-time Canadian Olympic medalist openly talked about having a mental illness.

Rotchford got to hang one of the Hughes’ Olympic medals around her neck and even have a “selfie” photo taken with her after. And, with a little help from Hughes, presented her great-aunt Bonnie Rotchord with a framed poster she had created.

The poster entitled “Breaking the Silence, Silence Isn’t Always Golden” brought her grand aunt to tears during the presentation.

Bonnie is regional peer supporter with CHANNAL (Consumers Health Awareness Network Newfoundland and Labrador) and was largely responsible for planning the event that brought Clara’s Big Ride to Stephenville.

Like Hughes, Bonnie openly talks about dealing with a mental illness and it’s something her great-niece takes pride in.

In creating the poster, Sarah said she wanted to show people they don’t have to hide their illness and she wanted to demonstrate it’s OK to speak out and tell people, like Bonnie and Hughes.

She said often when people have the kind of fame that Hughes has, you think that person doesn’t have problems. Yet she spoke publicly about her issues with mental illness and for Sarah, that is what really makes Hughes an inspiration.

Hughes said her Big Ride has travelled more than 4,000 kilometres to reach Stephenville on Saturday.

She left Port aux Basques at 8 a.m. on Saturday after getting off the Marine Atlantic ferry to a wonderful sendoff from the folks who welcomed her at the Bruce II Arena.

Hughes said she cycled 165-km through the wind, the cold and hills, but also received lots of love and hugs along the way.

“The ride has been incredible so far and the conversation about mental health has taken place in a positive way in every community. I’ve been finding out what’s lacking and will be bringing that message to Ottawa on Canada Day,” she said.

Hughes said Stephenville was her first community event in Newfoundland and Labrador and it was special to be in this part of Canada and said she is looking forward to her first visit to Labrador. She was amazed that hundreds of people attended the event on an Easter Saturday.

“It just keeps getting better somehow,” she said of her Big Ride.

She said the conversation she’s having about mental health and wellness really depends on the age of the people in the audience. She said there were so many kids in the room in Stephenville that she really kept it light and focused on how you should try to think about feelings and try not to get through difficult feelings alone.

“I’ve found that in a lot of the smaller communities there is a lack of access to mental health resources. It’s getting better in some ways, but there is the common thread of there is too long a wait and in some places there is no mental health organization at all,” Hughes said.

She said it really highlights the work that needs to be done to make every community in Canada a better place, so people suffering with a mental illness have the opportunity to get proper care, get treatment and to find a way that is best for them to live.

Hughes said while travelling the roads on her bicycle, what goes through her mind are the people she meets and their stories.

“I’m so inspired by so many young Canadians, like Annika (Benoit-Janssen) here today who rode across Canada on her bike and shared her story with me, her experiences of that ride and what it meant to her emotionally,” she said.

Hughes said like Benoit-Janssen so many young Canadians along the way are sharing their stories and being open about having a mental illness and talking about it and reaching out.

“That’s really where it’s at,” she said.

She continues Clara’s Big Ride today when she heads to Corner Brook after a morning event from 9:30-11:30 a.m. at College of the North Atlantic’s L.A. Bown Building in Stephenville.

At 2 p.m. Hughes will be at Dominion in Corner Brook and will be guest speaker at a fundraiser dinner at the Greenwood Inn in Corner Brook tonight from 6-9 p.m.


Clara Hughes, six-time Canadian Olympic medalist, brought her message of speaking out about mental health and wellness when she brought her Big Ride to Stephenville on Saturday.

That was after she rode the 165 kilometres from Port aux Basques earlier in the day taking on the wind and hills.

She continues Clara’s Big Ride on Monday when she heads to Corner Brook after a morning event from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at College of the North Atlantic’s L.A. Bown Building in Stephenville.

Hughes will be guest speaker at a fundraiser dinner at the Greenwood Inn in Corner Brook taking place from 6-9 p.m. on Monday.

Organizations: College of the North Atlantic, Big Ride, Greenwood Inn

Geographic location: Stephenville, Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador Port aux Basques

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