Cardinal Newman teacher riding across Canada for mental health
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 www.cyclingc2c.ca or contact the Suicide Prevention Community Council of Hamilton.