Cardinal New­man teacher rid­ing across Canada for men­tal health

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - NI­COLE O’REILLY nor­eilly@thes­ 905-526-3199 | @Ni­coleatTheSpec

Jim Zvonar is spend­ing the sum­mer see­ing Canada from the seat of his bi­cy­cle — a once-in-a-life­time ad­ven­ture that is the ful­fil­ment of a dream that be­gan in his 20s.

The trip is in part a 50th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion for the Cardinal New­man Catholic Sec­ondary School physics teacher, whose birth­day is July 30, but also has a pur­pose: to raise aware­ness and money for men­tal health.

Start­ing in Bri­tish Columbia, he’s made it to north­west­ern On­tario so far.

Men­tal ill­ness has touched his fam­ily deeply, first with the suicides of an un­cle and cousin while Zvonar was in his teens, and the more re­cent death of his brother-in­law, who he knew from the time he was a boy.

“I miss him be­ing around watch­ing the Leafs play hockey or talk­ing about his favourite car or mo­tor­cy­cle,” he said, adding that this trip has made him more emo­tional when talk­ing about his brother-in­law.

Sui­cide and men­tal ill­ness are dif­fi­cult sub­jects to talk about, but Zvonar said he wants to help re­duce stigma and en­cour­age oth­ers, es­pe­cially young peo­ple, to seek help early on.

Zvonar was hop­ing to raise at least one dol­lar for ev­ery kilo­me­tre, so about $7,500. So far he’s raised at least $3,500.

The money is go­ing to the Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Com­mu­nity Coun­cil of Hamil­ton (SPCCH), to help fund youth-based men­tal health ini­tia­tives in lo­cal schools.

Over the past three years, the coun­cil has funded such pro­grams in 36 schools in the Hamil­ton area, said SPCCH chair Sid Stacey.

“Jim is ex­tremely pas­sion­ate about help­ing to equip and em­power youth, to rec­og­nize early warning signs and con­nect with the care and sup­ports re­quired to achieve pos­i­tive men­tal health,” he said.

Zvonar has sur­prised him­self so far on the trip. He has sore mus­cles, and is miss­ing his fam­ily. But he is a day ahead of sched­ule and has been find­ing friendly and help­ful peo­ple along the way.

One fam­ily who stopped him out­side a gro­cery store in Fal­con Lake, near the Man­i­toba/On­tario bor­der even wanted to do­nate.

Zvonar hopes oth­ers will see what he’s do­ing and think: “He’s an av­er­age guy . ... I can do some­thing like that as well.”

Zvonar has also been in­vited to speak at some lo­cal schools, an ex­pe­ri­ence he says pushes him out of his com­fort zone.

“I’d like to pro­vide in­spi­ra­tion for oth­ers to push their lim­its and reach for their dreams,” he said. “I want them to take the leap and not be scared or hes­i­tant about the un­known.”

Zvonar is av­er­ag­ing about 150 kilo­me­tres a day and at the out­set pre­dicted 50 days of rid­ing. He’s seen moun­tains and prairies, just missed be­ing stopped by the for­est fires in B.C. and, de­spite warn­ings about wildlife, has only seen two deer and one coy­ote.

The trip along the Trans-Canada High­way will end when he cer­e­mo­ni­ously dips the tire of his bike in the At­lantic Ocean at Cape Spear, near St. John’s, N.L.

For more in­for­ma­tion about the Cy­cling C2C ride or to do­nate visit­ or con­tact the Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Com­mu­nity Coun­cil of Hamil­ton.

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