On Friday morning, Clara Hughes departed on what she says will be the journey of her life. The six-time cycling and speed skating Olympics medallist is riding her bike across the country to raise awareness for mental health.

The 12,000-kilometre journey is expected to take 110 days. Hughes departed from Toronto and plans to arrive in Ottawa on Canada Day. In between, she will stop in 95 communities.

“It’s really all about connecting with communities all across Canada,” she said.  “I think the conversation of mental health…is coming front and centre.”

"Clara’s Big Ride" is in collaboration with the Bell Let’s Talk mental health initiative, which is a charitable program that promotes mental health in Canada. Hughes herself suffers from depression.

“I believe that the more I tell my story and the more I encourage all Canadians to join in the conversation, the more we can all work together to help end the stigma surrounding mental illness,” she said.

One of her goals is to elevate the people around Canada who are doing work for mental illness. She wants to give them the stage for their stories to be heard.

“The conversation is getting louder and louder. I think this ride is going to make this huge roar and bring Canadians together. Not just in joy, but in struggle,” she said. “It’s time that we stop pretending mental illness does not exist.”

Hughes ends the first day of her journey in Hamilton. She will attend three community events to share her story about dealing with mental illness.

Bank of Montreal Welcome Event

5 to 5:30 p.m.

Bank of Montreal, 50 Bay St. S

Journey Through Recovery Community Event

7 to 10 p.m.

Liuna Station, 360 James St. N.

Unfiltered Facts Youth Group Event

Saturday, March 15, 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Perkins Centre, 1429 Main St. E.