“Clara” is six-time Olympian Clara Hughes, who is currently riding her bike across the country to raise awareness for mental health — and talk about her own struggle with depression.
Tyrone is Bell’s Marketing and Sponsorship Manager for Clara’s tour, called Clara’s Big Ride. Currently, he is also in charge of cooking, grocery shopping, driving, providing tech support and “whatever is needed at the time” while he is on the road with Clara.
While on the phone, he rummages around in the big tour bus that accompanies Clara and functions — depending on the time of the day — as office, supply centre, nap station, and diner for the entire team.
“Fun fact,” he says, “this bus actually used to be Stephen Harper’s campaign bus. It’s strange to imagine the Prime Minister sitting at this table right here, eating breakfast.”
An Exhausting Schedule for a Worthy Cause
Since Clara’s Big Ride kicked off on March 14, Tyrone has been getting up every day at 6am, preparing breakfast for Clara (yogurt, oats, banana and maple syrup is her go-to).
Around 8 am, Clara and her team visit one of the local high schools to talk about mental health in Canada in front of up to 500 students.
Then Clara gets on her bike and rides 130 kilometres (roughly 5-6 hours).
“Clara often rides in extreme conditions, such as low temperatures, down to -15C,” Tyrone says. “So, this is where the bus really comes in. We follow her along the way and provide clothing, food, and whatever support is needed at the moment.”
After her ride, Clara and the team sit down for lunch to refuel — just before they arrive at the next city along their route.
“Everywhere we go, people want to hear her speak,” Tyrone says. “They are really engaged, and want to give, and tell us their stories. That’s really great to see.”
After a short hotel stopover, the team regroups for the last event of the day, usually in support of a local mental health charity.
“I haven’t had a day off since we started the tour,” Tyrone says. “It’s quite exhausting at times, but it’s so worth it. It’s amazing to see this all pan out and come to life after such a long planning stage. And I really believe in the cause.”
A Fundraiser in Memory of His Best Friend
Clara’s tour, Tyrone says, opened his eyes to the magnitude of mental health problems in Canada. But the event that personally connected him to the cause happened eight years earlier — when Tyrone’s best friend AJ, suffering from schizophrenia, committed suicide.
“My fondest memory is us going on a road trip to Salt Lake City in 2002 for the Olympic Games. We just got into the car and drove for 18 hours, all the way from Vancouver to Salt Lake. We just had a really, really good time,” he says.
Back then, he says, he would have never suspected that anything was wrong.
"I guess AJ is the perfect example for what it means to suffer in silence, so to speak. He definitely didn’t talk about it. It was a huge shock when he died, and I’m sure he did feel very alone.”
To honour the memory of his friend, Tyrone decided to start his own fundraiser on Chimp.
To date, he has raised over $1,000 for the AJ Bay Foundation — best known for its annual golf tournament in support of local mental health organizations.
On top of raising money for a good cause, Tyrone hopes that his fundraiser will help people who are going through a similar experience to feel safe seeking help.
“I wish AJ would have felt like it’s okay to talk about his mental illness, chat more openly with his friends - and seek help. And, I mean, that really is what Clara’s Big Ride is all about: ending the stigma around mental illness.”
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