Clara Hughes announces Clara’s Big Ride for Bell’s Let’s Talk, which will be hosted to encourage discussion about mental health. Staff
Published Thursday, April 25, 2013 12:02PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 25, 2013 1:33PM EDT

Six-time Olympic medallist Clara Hughes is preparing for what she says will be the “most important” ride of her life.
Hughes, who suffered from severe depression for two years after her first Olympic Games in Atlanta, will be embarking on a 12,000-kilometre bike ride across Canada next spring.

The ride, named “Clara’s Big Ride for Mental Health,” is part of “Bell’s Let’s Talk” campaign – a national initiative launched in 2010 aimed at fighting the stigma surrounding mental health.

Clara Hughes speaks about Bell’s Let’s Talk Day from Gatineau, Que., Thursday, April 25, 2013.

“I honestly believe, including everything I did in sports, that this is actually the most important work I will do in my life,” Hughes said at a news conference Thursday in Gatineau, Que., where she has many memories as a racer.

“I am so grateful to have this chance to give the voice to Canadians from coast to coast to coast, to shout it loud and clear, that this is an issue that affects every single one of us — if not us, it’s someone that is close to us,” she said.

Nearly two decades after Hughes first entered the Olympic spotlight in 1996 when she captured two bronze cycling medals, Hughes is transitioning into her role as a retired athlete. But she doesn’t plan on taking it easy.

The 40-year-old Winnipeg native is reprising her role as the national spokesperson for the “Let’s Talk” campaign which aims to not only reduce the stigma associated with mental illness while improving access to mental health care, but to also support new research initiatives and develop mental health best practices in the workplace.

“Three years, quite honestly, my most important work began …. I had this opportunity to share this experience and time in my athletic life that I thought no one would want to hear about,” she said.

Hughes said the idea for the cross-country bike ride came to her while she was hiking though the High Sierra mountain range in California, where she experienced a “sense of clarity” about what she was going to do next in her retirement.

“I had this idea that movement was indeed my medicine,” she said.

The cross-country bike ride is slated to begin in March 2014 and will span more than 100 days. Hughes will make approximately 200 stops, including in all provinces and Canada’s three Northern territories.

“We’re going to support local communities and schools,” she said.

The ride will culminate on Canada Day in Ottawa.

Since the launch of the Let’s Talk campaign, Bell has committed over $62 million to Canadian mental health programs.

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