An Albertan hoping to raise awareness for mental health and sobriety is walking from Edmonton to Airdrie this month — while carrying a ball and chain.
Airdrie resident Mike Loughman is hoping to encourage others to reach out for help.
“I like to recover loudly so people don’t suffer silently,” said Loughman.
“Mike Marches Again for Mental Health” is set to begin on Aug. 13, and Loughman plans to be in Ponoka by Aug. 17.
After getting sober at an Indigenous recreation centre in High Level, Loughman was inspired to give back in a big way, but wondered how he could organize an event that would stand out from others.
Loughman was moved by a painting he had seen which depicted a ball and chain with a smiley face. The artist had explained it represented the struggle of living with mental illness and the effort to mask it.
The concept resonated with him, and that’s why he chose to walk with a ball and chain for his first “march” in 2017.
He walked from High Level to Airdrie, a distance of about 1,021 kilometres. That first walk raised over $11,000, which was split between two charities.
Because of health and work considerations, this walk will be much shorter at about 350 kilometres.
With an athletic background in rodeo, gymnastics and skateboarding, Loughman has suffered several knee injuries and undergone three surgeries. He also has early-onset arthritis and is too young for knee replacement surgery.
“I figure I have one more walk in me,” he said. “This is going to be an extreme challenge for me.”
For this event, Loughman will not walk alone. He’s being joined by his friend Brodie Bennett-Aru, who will bear the original ball and chain. The driver of their support vehicle will be Elle Geary.
Loughman has ordered a new ball and chain and a leather worker in Airdrie, Twisted Path Healing and Leather, custom-made an ankle cuff for it.
Each ball weighs five pounds and they will carry them as they walk.
A past recipient of the Lt. Governor’s ‘True Grit’ award, Loughman chose the symbolic location of the Government House (the former official residence of Alberta lieutenant governors) in Edmonton as the launch location for this walk.
He says the location reminds him of where his sober journey has taken him.
Loughman has worked hard to give back to the communities he did harm to while he was in the throes of his addiction, he said.
He’s volunteered, worked with charities and given talks in schools, and as he did, his network of contacts grew. His enthusiasm for advocacy and giving back led to the first Mike’s March.
Loughman hopes donations will pour in once the walk begins.
Loughman and will depart from Edmonton on Aug. 13, and anticipates the walk will take about two weeks, give or take a few days.
Their route has been planned out based on where municipalities have given them permission to walk. From Edmonton, they will head west, then south, passing through several towns, including Devon, Calmar, Crestomere, Bentley, Sylvan Lake, and Crossfield.
The Western Budget in Ponoka has donated accommodations for Loughman, Bennett-Aru and Geary for Aug. 17 and 18.
“If you live near one (of these towns) you should come walk with us,” said Loughman.
The goal for this walk is to raise at least $10,000. The funds will be shared equally between the non-profit Loughman started, The Sober Friends Society, and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada (MDSC).
MDSC provides support, education, and advocacy for individuals with mood disorders and their families.
“Fundraising support is crucial,” said MDSC national executive coordinator Sharla Robertson, adding such donations allow them to develop and maintain their programs and initiatives.
“These resources directly benefit individuals living with mood disorders, ensuring they receive the necessary support and understanding,” said Robertson.
“We are grateful for Mike and Brodie’s dedication to raising awareness and funds for mental health organizations like MDSC and the Sober Friends Society. Their commitment helps us continue our work and provides hope and encouragement for those struggling with mental health challenges.”
The long-term goal of Sober Friends is to become a central hub for sobriety in the Airdrie area, to both support those in recovery and provide emergency funding for treatment centres for those who can’t afford it.
The society has been fundraising to create such a space since 2019.
Mike’s March is seeking sponsorships for food, gas and hotels. For sponsorships, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 587-439-5200.
Those wishing to donate to the event can visit mikesmarch.defeatdepression.ca.