Collingwood's Braden Usher has been training for months in preparation for the R.A.C.E. (Ride Across Canada Expedition) for Mental Health, a gruelling 8,000-kilometre ride which will take him from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic, passing through some of Canada's most challenging terrain along the way.
But this isn't just a physical challenge. Rather, it's a personal mission to raise awareness and funds for mental health support and services, inspired by Usher’s own experiences with mental illness and the desire to make a difference in the lives of others.
“I think training, in general, is so much about proving to yourself that you can do hard things,” said Usher. “Training shows you who you are; it is the direct interface with character development, and it is the arena in which you evolve.”
Born and raised in Collingwood, Usher is a coach, personal trainer and the founder of Train for Life, a local health and wellness studio that just celebrated one year at 124 Hurontario St in Collingwood.
But his journey to get here wasn’t easy.
Growing up, Usher had always been entrepreneurial — starting his first business when he was just 8-years-old. As he got older, he attended post-secondary education, but he struggled to find purpose or meaning in school.
“I was caught between the pressures of staying in school in a place I didn’t believe in and the daunting unknown of taking the world outside the confines of this path I put myself on,” he said.
But staying in a situation that wasn’t serving him eventually landed him in jail and subsequently the hospital a week before his 20th birthday for concern of suicide. And it wasn’t the first time his emotional instability landed him in the hospital.
“I was a victim of it, and I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be here,’” Usher said.
With support from his family, he left school fall of 2017 and he got a job as a trainer at GoodLife Fitness, where he began focusing on his own fitness while trying to figure out what was next.
Training was his passion, so he enrolled in a bodybuilding competition that same year. That was significant for Usher because growing up, he said he was always teased for being too skinny and he became self-conscious.
“At the time, I was running towards something, positivity and self-love. But I was also running from something,” Usher said. “This was my time to hone in on self-development.”
As he found his confidence again, holding himself to this competition and the discipline that came with it, he also fell in love with training others. So in 2018, Usher moved home and started his own personal training business — Braden Usher Fitness — in his parent's garage. That was the beginning of Train for Life.
When he was not training, Usher would spend his days in nature with his rescue dog, Sparky. That time together allowed him space for self-growth and self-reflection, and Usher credits Sparky for getting him out of that dark space. He became obsessed with self-development, and began training harder and working harder to better himself and the lives of his clients.
He said he finally felt like he had a purpose again.
Committed to practising what he preached, Usher enrolled in a marathon, a half Ironman, and then a full Ironman. Those very habits that took him from a jail cell, the hospital and absolute chaos in his identity led him to find a balance between self-love and adversity.
“It's that centre point of finding your adversity that truly fulfils you and helps you see what you can achieve,” he said.
Six years later he’s finally come around to harnessing that, and now he wants to share it. One of Usher’s biggest goals for himself and for his clients is to eliminate the dissonance between who you are and what you think you can do. “Why not you?” he said.
“I was very much a victim to my circumstances, and now I am empowered by my own choices,” he said. “The accountability and inspiration to try to motivate others.”
The motivation for the R.A.C.E. for Mental Health itself was in part, that determination to continue building on his accomplishments and pushing himself further. But it also stemmed from Sparky’s sudden passing two years earlier.
In 2021, Sparky died. Usher said he lost his biggest support system.
“When he died, the only thing we didn’t do together was bike. So all I wanted to do was bike,” he said.
Sparky also inspired Usher to get out into the world and embrace adventure, and to Usher, biking across Canada felt like the biggest adventure of them all.
Usher will begin his ride in Tofino on May 8 — exactly two years after Sparky passed away — and he hopes to reach St. John’s, Newfoundland by Canada Day. He plans to do the trip completely solo, with a goal of completing the 8,000-kilometre route in under 50 days.
He has also set a goal to raise $25,000 to revolutionize mental health through Jack.org. On rest days, he will be speaking in schools across the country on behalf of Jack.org, shedding light on his darkness in hopes that it will allow others to do the same.
He is planning a half-way fundraising event in Collingwood on June 10, and is inviting friends, family and members of the community to ride in with him that day from starting points in Thornbury, Meaford and Owen Sound.
“From depression to Ironmans to biking across Canada, ultimately, all I’ve ever trained for is life,” said Usher.
Oddly enough, the thing he is most excited for is embarking on the experience alone.
“Being okay with being alone,” Usher said. “Going through something that I didn’t think I could do.”
For more information or to donate, visit the R.A.C.E. for Mental Health.