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Ride For Awareness by Lori White

    This summer of 2015, marks my new journey to ride the 1,340km from Montreal, Quebec, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, solo! I have come to understand the magnitude of courage and vulnerability required of me to complete this endeavor and I wish to share my experience with as many people as possible.  My ride is inspired by two things, brain injury awareness and mental health awareness.

This is my story:

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     At the young age of fourteen, my life changed and I no longer saw it through the same eyes.  I sustained a moderate traumatic brain injury after a very severe car crash.  High school was an incredible struggle and I felt very alone throughout the entire experience.  I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning and I couldn't sit still in class.  In grade nine I failed Math, Science, Geography and English!  My struggles were academic, emotional and social.  I did not have the confidence to even get a job or my driver's licence.  At 18, I applied for my first job with the help of my basketball coach, and my friend Karen.  It took both of their support and assistance with me so that I would have the patience and skill set to fill out a simple job application. I got the job, but I remember feeling so stupid since the process was so, incredibly difficult and I felt like no one understood that. During this time my brain injury was undiagnosed and I walked around dealing with shame, hopelessness, loss, fear, abandonment and feeling as though there was quite literally a piece of me missing. I attended summer school every year after repeatedly failing so many classes. I finally graduated high school after six long years, when I turned twenty!  Although I struggled and felt insanely lost, I never lost sight of what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a teacher. 

     I believed teaching would bring me great joy.  Little did I know that the road to becoming a teacher would prove to be even more difficult than the struggles I faced in high school! After graduation and having only 3 of the 6 mandatory OAC's and an academic average of 53% I enrolled in part-time studies at Wilfred Laurier University (WLU).  Having been successful in the two classes, I then applied for full-time studies in Physical Education at Brock University for the fall of 1999.  I was accepted and also played Varsity Soccer my freshman year!  That year was an enormous learning experience. Since I had one full credit from WLU, I was only required to take four full credits my first year. The second year, I enrolled in five classes and it felt like I was drowning.  I was studying my heart out and only getting 70-75%. I strongly believed I was capable of better. Some may feel like that would have been a success, which in many respects it was, but I cannot stress enough that my effort exerted and the 70-75% grades were not cohesive.  I watched my peer's study habits and couldn't comprehend how they would seemingly apply only half of the effort I was, yet achieve higher grades.   It left me dumbfounded!  I went to a Doctor at Brock's Medical Centre, and for the first time, the history of my accident was taken into account. She referred me for a neurological psych assessment, which once completed, determined that I suffer from a moderate traumatic brain injury.  This assessment came ten years after my accident.  I lived not knowing that I sustained a brain injury for those ten years but I also knew that something within my being was gravely wrong and I had NO idea what it was or, what to do about it. The details of my injury are irrelevant, but what is paramount is from that moment on I began receiving the necessary support and education in order to be successful in life. It also validated, that I am not crazy, there is legitimate reason for my overwhelming difficult feelings of loss throughout high school. I cannot get the ten years back without a diagnosis, nor do I want to, as they are a part of my journey but what I do want, is to bring education and awareness surrounding the issues of brain injury, to decrease the possibility of someone suffering as long as I did.

     In May of 2004, I graduated from Teacher's College with a Bachelor of Education degree and have been employed with the District School Board of Niagara as an occasional teacher for the past 10 years. My struggles with my brain injury did not end once I obtained a career.  My consistent perseverance and dedication to developing my self-awareness is my greatest strength, and that is shaping the person and educator I have become.  Further to Brain Injury Awareness, another cause I am passionate about is Mental Health Awareness.  I believe that frequently these two issues overlap and symptoms mirror one another in persons afflicted.  There is much evidence to support that persons with brain injuries are also suffering from some form of mental illness.  Mental health on its own affects a large percentage of the population.  In particular, as a dedicated teacher for 10 years now, I see first-hand how the impact of mental health issues can weigh upon the youth, their struggles and the stigma surrounding it. They wrestle with similar overwhelming feelings that I encountered as a brain injury survivor: hopelessness, loneliness, sense of abandonment, shame, depression... the list can go on.  The importance of early educational awareness and a proper diagnosis is crucial.       

    This ride will test my perseverance, dedication, courage and ability to be vulnerable and overcome adversity in order to accomplish my goal. I want to draw more awareness to brain injuries and mental health issues, to the educators, concussion sufferers, healthcare personnel, brain injury survivors and their families.  I can't stress enough the significance of early diagnosis of brain injury and proper diagnosis of mental health issues, as it provides the afflicted persons and their families with the knowledge and tools needed to aid them in life.  Education is vital and I hope this journey helps shine some light on the importance of increased awareness in our communities, homes and schools. 

    The cause of my ride is to raise money and strengthen awareness for brain injury and mental health sufferers and their families. This 1,340 km adventure can be tracked via social media every kilometre of the way and I have enlisted the support of many to help organize this trip. I am extremely excited to share this experience with those who follow, for what this ride means for me personally, and for the potential it has to empower everyone needed to make positive changes in one another's lives.