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George McDougall alum cycling across Canada to raise funds for mental health

“The response has been awesome. It’s really been one of the best parts of the trip – the support from friends and family,” he said. “People I haven’t talked to in years have reached out and shown their support, either through donations or giving me some kind words of support.”

A former Airdrie resident is journeying across Canada – from Victoria, B.C. to Cape Spear, N.L. – on a 10-speed Kona Sutra bicycle to raise funds and awareness for children’s mental health this summer. 

Kyle Epp, a George McDougall High School alumnus, said the idea to complete the cross-country ride came about when he realized his love for cycling, after he completed both a 100-kilometre and 100-mile ride over the last couple of years.

He said after the success of those respective rides, he started to consider completing a much larger ride for charity.

“I don’t know that I originally intended for it to be this big, but the idea kind of grew,” he said, adding the current ride is a bucket list activity. “Then I decided this would also be a good opportunity to raise some money for something that’s close to me as well.”

According to Epp, proceeds raised from the initiative are to be donated to the George Hull Centre Foundation – a leading children’s mental health care facility headquartered in Ontario.

He said the George Hull Centre for Children and Families provides intensive mental health support and service for kids, focusing on prevention and early intervention.

“They really encourage children to open up [about their mental health],” Epp said. “They teach them different coping skills to develop positive mental health.

“A lot of the time, issues can be too big to handle for the family, so that’s where the centre really comes in to give the children and families the tools they need to help with different mental health challenges.”

Epp said the chosen charity and championed cause resonates with him personally, as he was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when he was just six years old.

He said like many other kids who receive a similar diagnosis, he spent his childhood and teen years denying his differences, which he added did more harm than good.

"It really didn’t help me in the long run,” he said. “[It] created a constant weight that came in the form of depression and anxiety throughout my adolescence.”

According to Epp, it wasn’t until he began taking charge of his mental health and learning the way ADHD impacts him and makes him unique that he was able to get a better hold on his own mental health and find himself in a “better place.”

“I think where [the cause] resonates with me so much is that although I had resources and medication to help me, if I would have been able to have a bit more dialogue or a better explanation as a kid, I think it would have made a difference for myself,” he said.

“[I’m] hoping to push forward that conversation and normalize talking about children’s mental health more.”

As of press time, Epp said the response to the fundraising initiative has been impressive. He’s already raised more than $18,000 towards his $20,000 goal.

“The original goal was $10,000 and we crushed through that, which is amazing, so I had to pump it up,” he said of his new target.

Funds raised for the non-profit are garnered through a GoFundMe campaign page (which as of press time had raised $5,020) and a separate fund set up by Epp’s previous employer, which he said will match the donations raised.

Through his employer, Epp has raised more than $10,000, including $1,000 he donated to the cause himself.

“The response has been awesome. It’s really been one of the best parts of the trip – the support from friends and family,” he said. “People I haven’t talked to in years have reached out and shown their support, either through donations or giving me some kind words of support.”

During his journey, Epp has rigged his bike with a sign featuring a QR code directing individuals to the campaign page. He also carries a stash of business cards to hand out to passersby at gas stations, fast food restaurants, and even outside campsite bathrooms.

During his cross-country journey, Epp wakes at 6:30 a.m. to pack up his campsite and prepare for the day. He is often on the road by 8 a.m., pedalling for upwards of nine hours some days, with an average day on the road of five hours.

“Eight is usually the goal that I’m aiming for, but it takes me longer to pack up my camp every single day, longer than I think it’s going to,” he said with a laugh, adding he must take down his tent, make sure everything fits on his bike, and get prepared for the long day's ride with a nourishing breakfast.

The cyclist started his journey on June 21, and he has taken only a handful of breaks since then, including a weekend off in Sicamous, B.C., and 10 days of recovery in Calgary, where he currently resides.

As of the interview with Epp, he was stopped in Sudbury, Ont. before making his way onwards and upwarsd toward Quebec.

“Ontario seems to be the province that never ends,” he said with a laugh. “I was in Manitoba for like four or five days and I moved through there no problem, but I’ve been in Ontario over a week now.”

He estimated he had another week left in the province before making it to Montreal.

So far on his journey, Epp said he has seen a lot of cool spots, but his favourite has been a stay at a friend’s cabin on the shore of Lake Superior, just outside of Thunder Bay, Ont.

He added the mountains were amazing as he rode his bike through Kelowna and visited some friends there, travelling down to a beach in the evening where he enjoyed dinner.

“Those are some pretty special moments and I’ve got to throw a shout out to Saskatchewan as well, because my grandparents both live there,” he said, “so it made it pretty cool starting from my uncle’s house in Victoria and making it all the way to my grandparent’s house in Saskatchewan.”

By the end of Epp’s journey, he will have covered 6,712 kilometres on his bike across Canada.

“The goal is to make it to St. John’s, N.L. or if we’re getting technical, Cape Spear, which is the easternmost point of Canada, only 20 kilometres outside St. John’s,” he said.

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