Clara Hughes visits Iqaluit to support, inspire the mentally distressed
“Remove the stigma, right?”
As she spoke inside a gymnasium full of Aqsarniit Middle School students about her efforts to raise money for the Kids Help Phone., 14-year-old Kiyanna Drachenberg was nervous.
No wonder. She stood five feet away from six-time medalist Clara Hughes, one of Canada’s most prolific Olympic athletes.
Hughes holds the record for being the only Olympian athlete ever to win multiple medals in both summer and winter games.
She’s also tied with Cindy Klassen for the record number of Olympic medals won by a Canadian.
Hughes stopped by Iqaluit May 1 on day 49 of her 110-day, 12,000-kilometre cycling trip across Canada. Her journey, called “Clara’s Big Ride” for Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign is aimed at raising public awareness of mental health issues.
Hughes suffered well-documented mental health issues throughout her Olympic career, and she told the kids about it.
Things began to slip for Hughes at age nine, when her parents split up.
“I started getting into a lot of trouble and spending a lot of time on the streets of Winnipeg,” she told the audience gathered inside Aqsarniit’s gymnasium.
Hughes said she got into drugs and booze, and by age 16, dropped out of school.
“I thought it was cooler to be on the street and doing all these things and putting all this stuff into my body so I wouldn’t have to feel those things that were going on inside,” Hughes said.
Then Hughes found her calling — speed skating and cycling.
She went on to compete and win medals at the Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Turin and Vancouver Olympics.
“I thought the [medals] were going to fix all these feelings that I had inside. And they didn’t.”
It wasn’t until Hughes sought help that she addressed her mental health issues — a message which resonates with Drachenberg’s mother, Catherine Lightfoot.
“For those of us that didn’t know that or couldn’t get help — there was just nothing out there when I was growing up,” Lightfoot said.
Now there are many different ways to find help, Lightfoot said.
But she and Drachenberg are focusing on Kids Help Phone — for good reason.
“A lot of the kids in Kids Help Phone tend to call in about mental health issues. It’s very important to me,” said Drachenberg, who has used the help phone line before.
“My mother here, she has bipolar disorder, as she’s told multiple people before,” Drachenberg said, with Lightfoot chiming in and saying, “Remove the stigma, right?”
“And I, too, am kind-of dealing with some mental health issues at the current moment involving anxiety,” Drachenberg said.
“So it’s really important to me for multiple reasons.”
That’s why, on May 4, Drachenberg and Lightfoot are fundraising for a five-km walk to support Kids Help Phone.
The Bank of Montreal puts on an annual fundraising walk in support of the help phone called “Walk So Kids Can Talk” — but it usually doesn’t happen in Iqaluit.
So Drachenberg registered, and she’s already raised just over $500 as of May 1 through an online campaign.
Drachenberg said anyone interested can walk with her, or donate to her cause. She plans on starting the walk at 9:45 a.m. May 4 outside the Royal Bank of Canada in Iqaluit.
Her hope is this will be an annual event.
“I definitely hope that it becomes an official thing here in Nunavut because I think it would be great if we could have a whole lot of people participating in this and donating and fundraising.”