Olympic medallist

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Frank Gale
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Sarah Rotchford was inspired by Clara Hughes when the six-time Canadian Olympic medalist openly talked about having a mental illness in Stephenville Saturday.
The stop was among a dozen Hughes is making in Newfoundland and Labrador on Clara’s Big Ride, a bicycle tour of Canada during which she aims to connect with people around the country and work on beating stigma surrounding mental illness.
Sarah got to hang one of the Hughes’ Olympic medals — won for speed-skating and cycling — around her neck, and even take a selfie with her.

It was an emotional moment for Bonnie Rotchord (left) regional peer supporter with Consumers Health Awareness Network Newfoundland and Labrador, as her grand-niece Sarah Rotchford (right) presented her with a poster she had created in the presence of six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes (holding poster with Sarah) at the Lions Club in Stephenville during Clara’s Bike Ride event on Saturday, April 19. — Photo by Frank Gale/The Western Star

And, with a little help from Hughes, the teen 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 great-aunt to tears.

Rotchford 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, Rotchford 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 that it’s OK to speak out and tell people, like Rotchford and Hughes do.

She said often, when people have the kind of fame that Hughes has, you think that person doesn’t have problems. For Sarah, the fact that Hughes speaks publicly about it makes her 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 sendoff from the folks who welcomed her at the Bruce II Arena.

Hughes said she cycled 165 kilometres through the wind, the cold and hills, but 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 the community event Stephenville was her first in Newfoundland and Labrador. She said it was special to be in this part of Canada, and 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 go through difficult feelings alone.

“I’ve found that in a lot of the smaller communities there is a lack of access to mental-health res-ources. 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.

“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 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.

The Western Star

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