Canadian Olympic star Clara Hughes will be wearing purple and doing it “for Daron” at the Gatineau Grand Prix bike races this weekend.
On her blog entry today, Hughes said she drew great inspiration here last year from Daron Richardson, the Ottawa teenager who took her own life in 2010. Daron, of course, is the daughter of Ottawa Senators assistant coach and former NHL defenceman Luke Richardson.
Hughes, 39, battled depression early in a brilliant career that has taken her to great heights: a six-time Olympic medalist in speed skating and cycling. Along with Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, Hughes is among the high-profile athletes leading the discussion on awareness of mental health issues.
Hughes own teenage experience was challenging. At times she leaned on tobacco, drugs and alchohol during her rebellious years growing up in Winnipeg, before finding sport as a way to channel her energy.
Here is Clara’s May 18 blog, in part:
I’m back in Gatineau, Quebec, with the Specialized lululemon Team, where a year ago I experienced some inspiration in the form of a purple bracelet.
It was during the Grand Prix Cycliste de Gatineau. I was pretty motivated for the time trial, literally ripping through the first lap. So motivated that I had already almost crashed on a turn. One of those days when I just wanted to tear the pedals off the bike. I should have taken the first near crash as a warning. Instead, I got more pumped when, coming into the round about serving as the turn-around for the two-lap race against the clock, saw I was closing in fast on cycling legend Jeannie Longo of France who had started a minute ahead of me.
The roads were wet from earlier rain making the arrows slick like ice but still, I barreled through the turn. I knew I was going down before I hit ground and managed to click my feet out the pedals in the hope of landing on my feet. Almost made it, too. Yes, I crashed on the only place in the race where a few people watched, including my husband Peter, who rarely sees me race.
First thought was ‘how embarrassing’ followed closely by ‘it happened get back on that bike and ride!’. Soon enough, I was given a big push by the mechanic who sprung like a fox out of the team follow car and I was pedaling again.With pain in my hip I had a moment of feeling sorry for myself. I looked down at my wrist and saw the purple bracelet marked with white letters DIFD (Do It For Daron). I wore the bracelet specifically that day after seeing on Hockey Night in Canada the story of young Daron Richardson who lost her life to suicide the year before. I saw the strength and resilience of Daron’s parents and their efforts to raise awareness for mental health in young people and prevent this tragedy from happening to another young Canadian. I saw images of this beautiful, strong and athletic 14 year old girl and wondered just how this could happen to this vision of youth and potential.
Purple was her favorite color.
Learning about Daron made me think about myself and the impact sport had on me as a young person. The very real force it had on my life in terms of shifting a very destructive and negative direction when I was a teenager. I’ve always said that sport saved my life and thus, have continued to find ways to connect others, particularly young people, to the power of sport and play. There is a hope I have of making the world a better place for young people in Canada and around the world by showing a window into the nuances and beauty of living for goals and dreams like athletes do day in and out.
These goals and dreams led me to difficult times along the way. Specifically, two years of depression as a young athlete. Which is why I connected to the Richardsons and had decided to dedicate my race last year to the memory of Daron and the DIFD campaign to ‘inspire conversations, raise awareness and transform youth mental health’.
When I looked down last year at my wrist after crashing and saw purple, the thing I kept repeating through the entire second lap, pain and all from the impact of hitting the tarmac, was ‘If you can’t do this for yourself, do this for Daron!’.
The Richardsons live in Ottawa, just over the river, and that’s why I had the purple bracelet on my wrist. We did the ceremonial puck drop during a Ottawa Senators Games last February when the hockey team dedicated the evening to Youth Mental Health Awareness together and I got to know them more.
This year, the Specialized lululemon Team is dedicating our races to DIFD. We’re racing in Daron’s memory and the hope of helping the campaign reach more young people. We have the chance to share the beauty of our sport wherever we go.That each athlete on our team is truly living the dream of the athletic pursuit of excellence blends well with the desire to connect youth with the idea of living their own dreams in the most positive way.
Last year, Daron inspired me to win the race against the odds. I’m sure she will do the same for our team this year. Hopefully without the drama I had last time!
Link to blog: