How to Lift the Stigma: A Cross-Canada Journey for Mental Health Awareness.

Olivier Marcoux is a Montréal native. Katerine Sdicu was born and raised in Rimouski. The two met last July at a World Cup mountain biking even in the Laurentians and their love for sport and the outdoors brought them closer together.

I've known Olivier for nearly twenty years. We ski raced together, shared family dinners, and had various mischievous adventures along with his brother, my brother and my sister. Olivier has always been fun-loving, caring, and true-to-his nature. Although I do not have the pleasure of seeing him as frequently as when we were country-home neighbours, each time we reconnect, it is as if no time has passed. He is family. 

This summer Olivier and Katerine set out to ride their road bikes across Canada. They sold everything (except for prized antiques his designer mother has collected over the years - fear not, those she took back into her possession). Why did they decide to take on such a feat? They wanted to raise awareness for Mental Health and lift the stigma attached to it. 

They set off from Vancouver riding through the Rockies of Beautiful British Columbia and had their top mileage through the Prairies - the flat terrain, and wind to their back meant a daily record of 240 kilometres. They documented their trip on social media and stopped for rest at campsites, Warm Shower stops (like Couchsurfing but for cyclists), and a few motels. I watched their progress and anticipated their arrival to Ottawa en route to Montreal. Once they arrived to Gatineau, we made plans to have a family dinner chez mom and dad.

That day, I was having one of my bad days. Where my mood was low and my anxiety was high. I had asked my dad to quietly let Olivier know that I wasn't well and wouldn't be able to make it. It took everything for me to peel myself off the proverbial ground and shower and dress myself in order to attend dinner. I fought through my mindset knowing that I would feel amazing once I got there. Surprised to see me after my initial decline, Olivier hugged me so hard. Katherine was stuck in my parents' powder room with a shifty pocket door that never seems to open with ease. I heard her knocking on the door looking for help. I met Katerine for the very first time as I rescued her from the washroom, thinking to myself that she and Olivier are rescuing countless people by raising awareness. We laughed and hugged. 

Mental Health is close to Olivier. He has not disclosed to media just how close, so it is not my place to divulge. Katherine, on the other hand, speaks freely about how mental health issues such as depression, burnout, and anxiety have affected some of her closest friends notably so in high-pace career-oriented lifestyles. 

We enjoyed a dinner filled with stories and conversation surrounding their journey. Olivier and Katerine accepted challenges from supporters that were submitted through their Facebook Page, La Traversée, throughout the duration of their journey in exchange for donations to the Mental Health Foundation (Fondation des maladies mentales). Some of the challenges included riding naked down the highway and dancing original choreography to Bruno Mars' Uptown Funk in their cycling gear - a personal favourite! Katerine a PR expert did not expect to see more than 300 likes on their Facebook Page, which at present moment has 758 likes. Both seemed astonished that beyond friends and family, their Facebook page elicited likes from complete strangers as well as personal messages asking how to go about riding across Canada. They hope that once their journey comes to an end today at 5:00  as they ride into Montréal at Maisonneuve Park that the Facebook Page will remain active as a place to share and continue to create awareness.

Katerine and Olivier's top 3:

  • riding through British Columbia, every turn revealed something more beautiful and more picturesque than before

  • food staples: bread, peanut butter and canned tuna for good, sustainable energy without refrigeration

  • being outdoors every single day since July 2, 2015 and sleeping like a baby every night, you know that feeling after being active all day long?

Many of their Facebook fans commented on posts saying, "wish [they] could do that too!" This is one of Olivier's biggest messages from this journey: anyone can do it. If you have a goal, you can set out to do it. Try to get a leave of absence from work, or leave your job. Save up $2500 and set out across Canada on your bike, with a tent. He insists that anyone on minimum wage can make a feat like this  come to life. 

Olivier's father, Michel Marcoux has been training this summer and will ride cycle the final 50 kilometers into Montréal with them. Community. Awareness. Unity. Strength. 

Katherine and Olivier are looking forward to small, everyday luxuries. In October, they will be moving into their new apartment where they hope to host their friends and cook meals with fresh groceries from the nearby Jean Talon Market. Katerine hopes to one day own and operate a simple 1000 square foot yoga studio and juice bar on St Denis.  Oliver, taking the entrepreneurial spirit passed on from his parents and ingrained in his soul, is looking to start and operate a user-friendly and trustworthy second-hand bike website. You can expect to see Olivier and Katerine at one of Montréal's finest events - Let's Bond - on Friday, October 2nd, 2015 - a night dedicated to highlighting the importance of mental health. 

Their journey across Canada to raise awareness and bring a better understanding to the various types of mental health issues and illness hits close to home for me, as I'm sure it does for many other Canadians. Today couldn't be a better day for the radiant, positive, bubbly duo to arrive home to Montréal because today is #WorldSuicidePreventionDay. In the name of mental health call a friend or smile at a  stranger, or make a small donation by clicking button below. We have no idea what others are battling, so be kind.


Be good to you.

W xo