By Maureen McEwan
Marc Gagnon decided to start his summer vacation in a different way.
On July 27-28, the Hintonburg local walked 24 hours consecutively around Ottawa to raise awareness on women’s mental wellness and to encourage participation in this year’s Virtual Run for Women.
The national Run for Women event supports women’s mental health and is organized through the LOVE YOU by Shoppers Drug Mart™ program. For 2020, the 5K run/walk and 10K run events will take place in 18 Canadian cities virtually on Sept. 27.
This is Gagnon’s first year participating.
“I’m a co-captain for a team in the Run for Women,” he said. “So I was looking for a way to encourage the team, to set an example for the team, and then really to have people join.”
After developing the idea with a friend, Gagnon settled on the idea to walk for 24 hours because of the symbolism.
“The struggle with mental health, it’s not just 24 hours,” he said. “My pain that I feel, this is temporary. The struggle with mental health, and mental illness, it goes beyond 24/7.”
In the city, he said the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre (‘The Royal’) provides vital services to those with mental health issues 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“So this just seemed to [have] that symmetry there, or that synergy, with 24.”
Gagnon set off from his home in Hintonburg around 7 a.m. on July 27. He first headed west to Stittsville, reaching Quitters Coffee. After that, he turned back to head east, taking West Hunt Club Road through the evening towards Orleans. In the morning, he looped back through the Byward Market/Hull and then towards home in Kitchissippi.
Gagnon completed the 78 km loop around 7 a.m. on July 28, taking approximately 103,000 steps, and finishing on time.
One of the biggest challenges was the weather — Gagnon said the 30 degree heat “zapped” his energy at points. The “loneliest part” was from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. when he was heading east. Gagnon said he was walking slowly and taking more mini-breaks during that stretch.
But there were lots of positive moments. Gagnon said there was plenty of virtual encouragement and, along the route, he was visited by his mom, friends and staff from both The Royal and The Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.
“It was nice to feel that support,” he said. “And they were very grateful for what was done.” he said.
During the pandemic, he said women have had the added challenge of balancing different roles — being a mother, partner, teacher, employee or employer, etc. For him, the best part of the 24-hour journey was just being a part of the conversation supporting women’s mental health.
“I think part of it was just the conversation and the encouragement that I saw,” he said. And, certainly, the opportunity to ask people — like my teammates [who] are part of Team ‘It Matters’ — why are you getting involved? And for people to share their [stories] and their passion.”
“Women’s mental health, it matters,” he added.
Gagnon’s 24-hour journey marked two months until the 8th annual Run for Women. This year, 100 per cent of the local registration fees will be donated to the Women’s Mental Health program at The Royal.
To learn more, visit runforwomen.ca or theroyal.ca.