Ryan Thirlwall has a new tutu and he’s ready to walk.
For the third time in seven years Thirlwall will do the Tutu Walk For Hope on March 19. He’ll be wearing a pink tutu (and other pink niceties) from Nanaimo to Victoria. The 31-year-old mental health advocate has made the 126-kilometre journey by foot twice before, first in 2012 when he was just 24 and then again in 2016.
A West Shore resident this time around (he was living up-Island last time), Thirlwall does it to raise awareness about a lack of mental health services and to raise money for the Boys and Girls Club. The walk actually starts at Nanaimo Chevron at Woodgrove Mall at 7 a.m. He walks non-stop to Duncan, where he usually arrives around midnight.
“I take a break. I have a bath, get crew organized, and then head back out to finish at about 10:30 a.m.”
He’ll finish at the Boys and Girls Club in Esquimalt.
“It’s not enjoyable, it’s to raise awareness and inspire people, but it’s not a fun walk,” Thirlwall said. “I don’t sleep for 29 hours and just keep walking, it’s agonizing.”
While the walk recovery takes weeks, Thirlwall is more agonized by the gaps in mental health support, especially once you’re outside of a big urban centre.
“Even just outside Victoria, if you look at statistics it’s depressing,” Thirlwall said. “We live in a world where we should not have the lack of funding and resources and awareness for people to access these resources. The justice system is flooded with people who don’t need to be in it, addiction is heavy, and people who need the most help can’t get the help.
“I hope it’s my last time doing the walk, I want to send the message home one last time that mental health needs more funding.”
In times of desperate need, there’s not always someone to call and there should be, he said.
“On average we have almost 5,800 suicides in Canada per year, that’s a heavy number, but there’s also a lack of awareness on where to get help,” Thirlwall said.
On Sept. 27, 2017, Thirlwall and friends launched the Facebook page BOSS, Becoming One Supportive Society, and it now has more than 40,000 followers.
“I want to bring people together internationally online to create real, meaningful change offline,” he said. “I want to make this year a memorable year, we bring diversity, especially where there’s diversity. It’s time to talk about online social media, about bullying, about building community in schools.”
Thirlwall is actually doing two walks and will be back in the tutu after the March 19 Tutu Walk For Hope when he walks the following Wednesday (March 27) from Swartz Bay to the Terry Fox statue at Mile Zero, then over to Langford city hall (his hometown). It’s a 33.6-km trek that, when added to the 2012, 2016 and 2019 Tutu Walks of Hope, will total 460 km, the distance of Vancouver Island from top to bottom.
“I did a 33-km Tutu Walk extension in 2016 that nearly killed me but that’s irrelevant, there’s people who need help way more than me,” Thirlwall said.
People can donate directly through the Boys and Girls Club, which comes with a tax receipt. The key word will be ‘tutu’ to track donations made for the cause, he said.