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Grande Prairie Storm goalie makes mental health awareness a team sport with school presentations

Over three months into the “Lift the Mask on Mental Health” initiative, Grande Prairie Storm goalie Connor Mackenzie has raised just over $20,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association. The two main aspects of the initiative are the fundraising part, which includes direct donations or the Per Save Pledge, and the second part is focused on raising awareness. Over the past couple months Mackenzie has gone to and talked with classes in four different schools around the Grande Prairie region two to three times a week.

“I have been trying to bring an uplifting and positive side to talking about mental health with younger kids,” Mackenzie says. “I will go into a class and give a 10 to 15 minute presentation about what is our mental health? How do we identify when we are struggling with it, how do we improve on it? Then looking at tools and resources on ways to do that.”

Mackenzie explains after the talk, he will play some games with the class, because while he wants the experience to be educational, he also wants it to be fun.

“I want it to be a cool thing, that they are excited when I come in to talk.”

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The 20 year old athlete has found the teachers in the different schools have been supportive of him coming into their classes to talk. One of the best parts of the experience has been seeing the kids come to Storm games, and being excited to see him. Some of them ask when the young athlete will be coming back to their class.

“I have really been trying to tell them what I have been doing and the importance of it, and the kids have been completely on board with it and great with the talks. I feel that it has been going a long way to help them feel comfortable with it and confident with it, because the biggest thing is kids are great with talking about mental health when they are happy and they think it is cool to talk about when you are happy and excited but you want them to feel just as comfortable and confident when they aren’t feeling so great.”

Mackenzie says he is explains to the different classes he goes to it is just as important to be able to tell someone you aren’t feeling well mentally or “upstairs” as it is to tell someone if your arms hurts.

One example he shares of how the conversations had in the class are making a positive impact comes from one of the first times he went to a class. Mackenzie shared his experience learning with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“ADHD for example for me makes it more difficult when I am at school, it made it difficult for me to sit through a class or a longer period of time on something my brain isn’t that interested on,” Mackenzie says. “So I telling some ways and some tools that I use to try to manage that, and the next week I had a little girl come up to me in the hallway and tell me that she also has ADHD and she tried some of the things that I said. – She said she found the tools were making her feel better and she found she was feeling better at school and not feeling as overwhelmed.”

Mackenzie adds it was great to hear something he shared made a difference in this students life and helped make what she was going through easier.

He has also found since he started sharing his personal experience with the classes, it has helped him become more comfortable with his own mental health.

Earlier in January Mackenzie suffered a injury leaving him out of the Storms line up for a couple weeks. However, being able to go into the schools has been an uplifting and positive part of his days, as he has been unable to do what he loves to do, be on the ice.

“Like I talk about with the kids at the school there is stuff that happens in life and in sports that is out of our control, like me getting hurt for example, but it is all about how we can find ways and we can do to improve the way we feel,” Mackenzie says. “For me a big part of that has honestly been going to the schools and it has been great for my own mental health personally as I have been going through a bit of a tougher time with being hurt.”

Classes and schools have also shown Mackenzie and the “Lift the Mask” campaign support outside his talks. Students at Alexander Forbes School held a change drive. Students donated change to the campaign and raising $1,714. Those at the Bezanzon School created a giant thank you card, which will be displayed at upcoming Storm home games.

Mackenzie says he is looking forward to the different events coming up for the initiative, including the Grande Prairie Storm “Lift the Mask” night on February 25th, where the team will wear specially designed jerseys and Mackenzie will will a specially designed helmet. The specialty jerseys and the helmet will be auctioned after the game, with all the proceeds going to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

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