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Martin Spriggs talks (literal) cross-country cycling at Algonquin

By Ryan Paulsen, The Daily Observer

Ryan Paulsen / Daily Observer
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Algonquin College student and community affairs manager Jamie Bramburger, left, looks on as Martin Spriggs talks about his arduous 2004 solo bike ride across Canada during the latest instance of the college's ongoing Speakers' Series on Thursday, Feb 25.

Ryan Paulsen / Daily Observer
Algonquin College student and community affairs manager Jamie Bramburger, left, looks on as Martin Spriggs talks about his arduous 2004 solo bike ride across Canada during the latest instance of the college's ongoing Speakers' Series on Thursday, Feb 25.

Martin Spriggs has spent his life helping others, whether during his 15-year military career as an infantryman and paratrooper deployed to global hotspots like Cyprus, Croatia or the streets of Sarajevo or in his post-military life as an emergency medical technician or his multiple trips overseas on international humanitarian or disaster relief missions. On Thursday, Feb. 25, however, his drive to help people brought him to Pembroke to speak as part of the ongoing Algonquin College speakers series at the college's Waterfront Campus.

The focus of Spriggs's main address in the colleges commons was a solo bicycle trip he took in 2014, where he covered more than 7,000 kilometers and rode from Victoria, BC to St. John's, Nfld., all to raise as much awareness as possible about the spectre of suicide and mental health ailments among current and former Canada Armed Forces members.

In his talk, Spriggs recounted various setbacks and adventures he encountered on the long road across Canada, the occasional interaction with wildlife, the sometimes surprising cycling challenges that each of the county's many different geographical regions brought with it, and the crescendo of local and national media coverage for his cause that culminated in his very own media circus once he finally reached the nation's capital.

Looking back on his long trek, Spriggs is philosophical about whether he considers his ride a "success", beyond the obvious personal accomplishment of having gone from the Pacific to the Atlantic using just two feet and a heartbeat.

"It depends on what the benchmark is," he says. "I lost four friends to suicide in the year before this ride, so I just wanted to do my part to get the word out there, and help to put the processes out there so veterans out there know that there's help out there for them and know that it's okay to reach out. I think from that perspective, we were successful. Personally, I lost another friend to suicide after the ride finished, so the battle continues."

Despite personal losses, Spriggs does see the Canadian Forces taking steps in the right direction, particularly when he compares what he sees today with what he experienced as a soldier a few decades ago.

"There was very little by way of support out there for us guys who served in the '80s and '90s, and who served in some very nasty places," he recalls, "and the culture in the army back then was not a culture that accepted any sign of weakness. As an outsider looking in now, I see very positive things. I see an Armed Forces that is committed to change, and committed to help. I see improvements within Veterans Affairs Canada with more service and more access into the system with the Occupational Stress Injury Clinics and things like that, things that certainly didn't exist when I served. As an outside looking in, I think those are very positive."

For Algonquin College student and community affairs manager Jamie Bramburger, Spriggs is an ideal guest speaker, both for who he is and for the messages he conveys.

"Martin has a very inspirational talk that he provides about his cross-Canada tour, which was really about raising awareness about suicide prevention among military veterans. We certainly have a very large military population here, whether ex-military, spouses of military or people who have family connections to service soldiers. So I think that's one piece of hwy that's a good connection for us.

"The other piece is our campus commitment to mental health. We've done a lot of training with our staff around mental health first aid, we know that this is a significant issue, and that it often surfaces among young people when they go to post-secondary education, so anything we can do to raise awareness about that, while at the same time delivering a really inspirational message about being able to do whatever you want to do, like Martin delivered today, that's important."

Spriggs was also scheduled to talk to members of the college's nursing program, some of whom are preparing to undertake a relief mission down to Guatemala, about his humanitarian work, specifically in the impoverished African nation of South Sudan.

For more information on the college's speaker series, visit their website at www.algonquincollege.com/pembroke/waterfront-events/

rpaulsen@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/PRyanPaulsen