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Clara's Big Ride reaches Duncan

Olympian Clara Hughes receives a T-shirt, promoting Cowichan mental-health programs, from Francine Wilson during Friday
Olympian Clara Hughes receives a T-shirt, promoting Cowichan mental-health programs, from Francine Wilson during Friday's stop of Clara's Big Ride at Duncan's Bike Works.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Six-time Olympian Clara Hughes' wide, vibrant smile was met by dozens of Cowichanians during her brief road-stop Friday at downtown Duncan's U-Fix It Bike Works.

Hometown folks burst into applause as Hughes strolled up Bike Works' rear lane for a fast meet and greet on her national bicycling feat — Clara's Big Ride — that's raising awareness about mental illness.

"It's to bring the conversation to every community — big and small — in Canada, so youths understand everyone can struggle, and to demystify mental health for people," said Hughes, who deals with depression.

Friday was a good day for the Olympic cyclist and speed skating demon along her 12,000-kilometre ride, of which she'd covered some 7,000 km after reaching Duncan.

Slipping a green T-shirt from fan Francine Wilson over her blue-and-white biking outfit, a humbled Hughes told the crowd, between hugs, her odyssey is "an epic ride."

"It continues to evolve, and every place has a sensitive touch."

Hughes noted athletics and the arts — such as unique pieces she saw made in Bike Works' programs for challenged youths — boosts self confidence.

"I'm a recreational artist, but it's a skill I value," she said, urging valley youths to groom self-expression through art.

Mary Peter of Quw'utsun' Huyi'xwule' Skwoulew't-hw' programs for youths, raised her hands to Hughes for helping lift awareness about mental-health issues.

"Its a big concern in our community, and in the world," said Peter.

"Each and every day we see the challenges youths face – depression, drugs, grief, loss, challenges of going to school, and fitting in," she said.

Cal Hosie of Bike Works agreed.

"Clara's stop is a fantastic opportunity to raise mental-health awareness in the Cowichan Valley.

"The message is that mental health is important because many people suffer from it, but it's an invisible disability so it often doesn't get recognized."

But mental-health issues need a social profile "so people get support through programs such as Bike Works," Hosie explained — proud of local teen, John Herda-Harris, who pedalled from Mill Bay to the busy bike shop Friday.

Lisa Delusignan, of Canadian Mental Health Cowichan's Bounce Back program, tackling depression issues, signalled Hughes is a hero.

"Clara's talking about (depression), and making it more normalized."

Hughes is being helped by a bus and van crew of about 20. They do everything from crowd organizing and time management, to hotel booking and readying and repairing her four rides — two road bikes, a cross-bike, and a mountain bike for varied terrain.

Next, she heads to Nanaimo, Vancouver, and the Interior, then on to Alberta.

Hughes was happy her ride inspired pride in Cowichan.

"I'll take you with me in my heart for the next 5,000 kilometres," she told her Warm Land fans during day 64.

To follow Hughes' highway, and to donate to mental-health programs, visit clarasbigride.bell.ca.

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