Story and Photos by Christian J. Stewart (ISN)
October 15, 2012, Victoria, BC (ISN) – With a ceremonial dip of her rollerblade into the Pacific Ocean Monday afternoon at the foot of Douglas Street, opposite the Trans-Canada Highway “Mile 0” marker, rollerblader Ashley Gilbank completed a cross-country trek in support of mental health awareness.
And right along with Gilbank, in spirit and in her heart, was childhood friend Rachel Spearing, who was lost to suicide in 2011 and who was the motivation for Gilbank to conduct her mission and raise the awareness of mental health issues, particularly in young people.
With her support van close behind, Ashley Gilbank takes the final few strides of her journey down Douglas Street toward the “Mile 0” marker (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Gilbank’s trek began in Newfoundland in June, and finished Monday afternoon at “Mile 0” in Victoria where waiting for her, among others in her team, was Sandy Spearing, Rachel’s Mom, who flew in from Ontario to surprise Ashley and another childhood friend Ariana Mugford, who lives here in Victoria.
Sandy Spearing (left), Mother of Rachel Spearing, the young lady who’s suicide motivated Ashley Gilbank (right) presents Ashley with a boquet of sunflowers at the completion of her journey (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
“It’s all a bit overwhelming” said Gilbank moments after wheeling down the foot of Douglas Street to the “Mile 0” marker. “Yesterday I was not sure how I was going to end this, or whether I would be happy or sad, but when Sandy showed up last night at our hotel to surprise me and to be with me on the final day of this journey, it brought it all back home as to why I was doing this.”
Ashley Gilbank and her biggest supporter, husband Pierre (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
“I think at some point, I lost focus on the big picture and was concentrating more on just finishing the trip,” added Gilbank. “There were times when it was just me on the road and my husband Pierre in the van with no one else around, that I lost sight of why I was doing this. But when Sandy showed up, it just brought it all together and gave me the motivation for this last day.”
Ashley (centre) and her support team (left to right) Ghislaine Landry, Michaela Hoskins, Gryffin Hoskins and Sandy Spearing (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
Ashley Gilbank dips her toes in the Pacific Ocean in Victoria, completing a cross-country rollerblading trek to raise awareness about mental health issues (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
“We are thrilled she made it,” said Rachel’s mother Sandra Spearing. “I know she was doing this in memory of Rachel, but she is really doing this for all the kids and young people who have lost their lives to suicide and more importantly for all the families, including the family of Amanda Todd who took her life so tragically last week, who are just beginning the same journey that we have been through in the past year and a half. They need to know we are here for them.”
To mark the end of her journey, Gilbank pours a bottle of Atlantic Ocean water into those of the Pacific (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
“Ashley has made this issue so important and we congratulate her for making this journey,” added Spearing. “It is important to know that there are many young people like Amanda Todd out there who are trying to reach out and feeling like they are not being heard. Things need to change and we need to be proactive and recognize the signs and talk to our kids and loved ones if they are feeling down.”
In honour of their departed friend Rachel, Gilbank and her team strike a pose on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Victoria (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
In addition to raising awareness about mental health issues, Gilbank and her team have set a goal to raise $60,000 in support of mental health issues. All the funds raised will be donated to D.I.F.D. (Do It For Daron) which is a youth-driven initiative focused on raising awareness and inspiring conversations about youth mental health.
Created by friends and family of Daron Richardson who lost her life to suicide at the young age of 14, D.I.F.D. is inspired by hope for a future where young people will reach out for help without fear or shame. D.I.F.D. supports programs and initiatives aimed at transforming youth mental health.
As a final tribute to their departed friend Rachel Spearing, Ashley Gilbank and her team throw sunflowers, Rachel’s favourite, into the Pacific Ocean at the foot of Dallas Road in Victoria (Photo: Christian J. Stewart / Island Sports News)
“I think this is a new beginning and that by going on this journey, I can open some new doors on the mental health issues and raise awareness of the things we can do to help,” added Gilbank. “I’ve learned so much on my journey about the disease of depression, about suicide and I think we can do so many things to make a difference. Ask questions, talk to your loved ones about how they are feeling, reach out. If my journey can make that happen, then I am happy that I could be a part of that.”
You can find more details on Ashley’s journey, as well as information on how to donate on their website at http://www.skate4life2012.com