Six years ago, Braden Usher found himself in hospital with “overwhelming” anxiety and depression. Now, he’s just completed a solo cross-country cycling journey across Canada to raise money for youth struggling with mental health issues.
The 26-year-old says fitness helped him achieve what he didn’t think he was capable of and now sees it as a “practice and discipline of self-love.”
“The ride across Canada was a perfect way not only to feel, to experience and to relate to mental health struggles, but to move through that on my own, to be vulnerable in that experience and to be able to share it with the community,” Usher said.
“It’s alone, it’s long and at times can feel like it’s never-ending, and these are themes that I think are very similar and resonate with mental health struggles.”
Usher, who was born and raised in Collingwood, Ont., roughly 150 kilometers north of Toronto, is hoping to raise $25,000 for the non-profit organization Jack.org, which helps youth struggling with mental health related issues.
‘It feels amazing’
With his cycling gear, triathlon race bike, phone and just enough snacks to get him through the day, Usher embarked on his trek on May 7 in Tofino, BC, pedaling nearly 8,000 kilometers from coast to coast before reaching his final stop in St. John’s, NL on July 14.
“Every time that I was at a restaurant [or] a gas station and people became aware of what I was doing, they would say, ‘Where’s all your stuff?'” he said.
“People would ask and I would point at myself [and] say this is all my clothes, that’s all I got.”
With several rest days and injury days in between, the trip took roughly two and a half months to complete.
Usher, who owns a gym in Collingwood, says fitness has been an important tool to help him heal. While he has previously completed the Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Mont Tremblant, he says this was his first time taking on a fitness journey of this size.
Through his campaign, he says he was able to connect with others from across Canada who share similar struggles, and hopes his journey will not only help tackle mental health stigma but also inspire others, especially young people, to discover their physical and mental potential.
“It feels amazing to be pursuing not only my best self, but to be helping others to do the same,” Usher said.
“I built myself from rock bottom through finding these daily habits and principles that led me to not only discover a whole new side of myself and a whole new confidence and self-esteem, but also principles that I could teach others.”
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in this is how similar we really are, how many struggles we share and how together we can connect and and move through goals, move through adversity and obstacles that seem daunting.”
The campaign raises more than $18K
Usher’s biking journey, which he named “Ride Across Canada Expedition (RACE) for Mental Health,” has so far raised more than $18,000.
Jack.org CEO Rowena Pinto says she hopes to see more people like Usher put their “passion into action” to address the youth mental health crisis in Canada.
“We truly couldn’t achieve our mission if it wasn’t for people like Braden,” Pinto told CBC Toronto.
“We are hugely appreciative of people like [him] who see the importance of tackling the youth mental health crisis and are taking those steps to raise funds that will go toward helping young people across the country through our programming.”
Meantime, Usher says he is in talks with Jack.org to expand RACE into a yearly run or ride in Collingwood, in other parts of Canada or possibly another country.
“This is such an important mission and it feels very purposeful,” he said.
“I want to continue and I’ve known that right from the start that I’ve wanted to continue the race for mental health.”