On the morning of January 6, 2019, Greg’s wife, Ingrid, took the ill-fated call that no parent should ever receive. The call would change the family’s lives forever. Their son, Aric, who had been battling the demons of mental health issues, lost his life to addiction. Aric, suffering from anxiety and depression had received mental health care at CHEO, but after aging out, he was left with a long waiting period for further help and took it upon himself to self-medicate. Within a year and a week after Aric’s 25th birthday, another call came that Maddie Wright a long-time family friend and special friend of Aric’s had taken her life. Maddie had never got over losing Aric.
At the memorial for Aric, 300 people attended when the family had expected only 50 or so. Aric had touched the lives of so many and they wanted to pay their respects. The McPherson family heard over and over that Aric’s death had aided each person in their journey and had ‘saved’ them.
Greg has been taking his own mental health breaks through long walks, bike rides and spending time on his kayak. “My walks have seen me walk from one side of Ottawa to my home in Kanata, from Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake, from Thorold, Ontario to Niagara Falls and more. My walks have all been solitary up to this point, to spend time alone with the thoughts of my oldest son who we lost in January of 2019 and to find positive on a difficult journey along the way,” said Greg. Just two weeks ago in preparation for this year’s walk, Greg left Manotick to walk to his home in Kanata, a total of 49Kms. It was during one of his walks that Greg realized he could do more to help youth with mental health challenges.
Greg is a determined father and can meet any challenge. Greg decided to honour of Aric and Maddie, and a walk was hastily organized for 2022. His son Aaron was quick to say that he would like to join his Dad on the walk. With family, close friends and a handful of sponsors supporting the walk, father Greg and son Aaron would set out for their walk across Ottawa from Orleans to Cooligan Martial Arts in Stittsville, a walk that took 10 hours on April 16. Aaron was the catalyst that turned their personal walks into a fundraiser in 2022 with a goal to exceed $10,000. Over $11,000 was raised for the Youth Services Bureau, providing over 240 hours of counselling for Ottawa youth. This year’s goal is $50,000.
This year’s walk, taking place on June 2 and June 3, will see the father and son team walk all 24 Ottawa wards in 24 hours including a walk through the Byward Market to Alexandra Bridge to honour Aric. He was living in Gatineau at the time of this death. Greg and Aaron are asking people to join them at Major’s Hill Park near the Chateau Laurier to complete the 1km walk to City Hall where the walk will end at approximately 11:30am.
Why all 24 wards? Greg tells us, “there is not a ward or demographic in this city that is not affected by addictions, mental health or both. We want to bring awareness to this important fact while supporting the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa who work with these kids everyday. One person every three days in Ottawa dies of an overdose. The first quarter of 2022 has been the worst for Ottawa.”
At 12:00pm on June 2 Greg and Aaron will depart Cooligan Martial Arts and Fitness in Stittsville with Greg’s wife Ingrid and daughter Chelsea on hand for the send-off. Ingrid is a holistic nutritionist and will provide Greg and Aaron the nutrition needed to cover the 104kms. Chelsea has been busy in the background contacting the Councillors and MPPs for their support of the walk. To date, Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, 17 Councillors and four MPPs are supporting the walk. This year, the walk also has sponsors: The Running Room; Tubman Funeral Homes; and, Baker Tilly Ottawa LLB.
As they walk their route, Councillors and Ottawa residents will be out to meet them in each ward. Follow Greg and Aaron along their route at the otr4mentalhealth.com website.
On June 3, they plan to arrive at City Hall at 11:30am where Mayor Mark Sutcliffe will welcome Greg and Aaron and provide a few words. MPP Lisa McLeod is also invited to share her story of mental health. A network of Canadian families impacted by substance-use-related harms and deaths, Moms Stop the Harm, will also be present to speak when Greg and Aaron arrive at City Hall.
At City Hall, members of the public can share messages, memories or photographs of loved ones lost to addictions or mental health issues on signage “as a way for people to remember those who are gone. Reading the messages and seeing the photos, will show just how much this affects everyone. If we can encourage just one person battling to seek help, we will have inspired them,” said Greg.
“This walk is in memory of Aric and Maddie and everyone we have lost, while celebrating those who won the battle and people who care,” ended Greg.
To learn more about the otr4mentalhealth, donate to the walk, watch Greg and Aaron along the route in real-time, visit their website at otr4mentalhealth.com (On the Road For Mental Health).
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