Sashbear Walk attracts hundreds of walkers, raising almost $100,000 for mental health

On Sunday May 27th, Toronto’s Sunnyside Boardwalk became a sea of orange as hundreds of family members, friends, people with lived experience, gathered for a 5K Walk in support of The Sashbear Foundation.

Keynote speaker Asante Haughton, joined Sashbear founder Lynn Courey at the start line to cut the ribbon, signalling the beginning of the annual walk. Leading the crowd forward were Olympians Heather and Brittany Maclean, Tera Van Beilen and Michelle Torro (Williams), all on hand to support Sashbear and speak out on mental health.

Walk by the numbers

Total participants: 400
Teams: 32
Funds raised: $90,000
Volunteers: 100+

“This was the sixth annual Sashbear Walk and the second in a row to raise close to $100,000,” said Sashbear Walk Co-ordinator Heather Rider. “This shows that the Walk has reached a new level of maturity and that the record-setting numbers from last year are holding. The last two walks have exceeded expectations bringing in almost $200,000 to The Sashbear Foundation while growing both the number of volunteers and walkers.“

Sashbear founder Lynn Courey called it “an incredible day.” She said “I can’t thank everyone enough for helping Sashbear help families. No words can express my gratitude.“

Asante, who joined the Sashbear Walk this year for the first time, tweeted, “Man, it was so incredible to be out there with everyone, walking and sharing stories of struggle and of hope. So much more needs to be done but I'm happy @SashbearOrg is out there to provide support to families.”

The walk was organized by a team of 100 volunteers led by Heather Rider and Catherine Needham. "On Sunday, this huge group of volunteers worked smoothly and efficiently to make the day go without a hitch," said Heather and Catherine. "Their passion and dedication to Sashbear are truly inspirational." Walk volunteers arrived at Sunnyside Beach at 6:30 am to begin setting up for the walk. The first task of the day belonged to Michele MacLean who ensured the gazebo and grounds were clean before set up began. By 9 am the registration table was open, the stage and podium were set up, the music was playing, the VIPs were arriving, the volunteers had donned their inspirational sandwich boards and the Sashbear mascot was entertaining the crowd.

Kickoff ceremonies

The event kicked off promptly at 10 am with founder Lynn Courey delivering a heartfelt speech about the accomplishments and importance of the foundation and introducing actor John Ralston as Master of Ceremonies.

Arif Virani, MP for Parkdale-High Park, gave an impassioned speech, saying “ When we engage with The Sashbear Foundation and its Family Connections program, we support each other, we support our loved ones and the tremendous initiative that Lynn Courey and Mike Menu have started in memory of Sasha, which is bringing mental health stigma out of the closet.”

R. Shelley sang a new song written specifically for this year’s walk entitled "Other Side".

Asante Haughton was up next, sharing his personal story of mental health struggle, hope and redemption. Inspired by his bravery, many walk participants stopped him along the boardwalk to share their own story.

Walkers also got to participate in the annual mindfulness walk across the Humber Bay Arch Bridge led by Karen Waddell.

The Finish Line

Once the official ribbon-cutting was complete and the walk was underway, volunteers led by Heather and Brittany Maclean, jumped into action transforming the walk site into a ceremonial finish line complete with red carpet so the Olympians could bestow medals on each walker as they completed the five kilometres. The idea of having medals to celebrate the finish was Heather MacLean’s. “This is very special to me,” says Heather. “Sasha and I stood on many podiums receiving medals together.“

The celebrations at the finish line with Sashbear volunteers cheering and banging noisemakers, and the Olympic swimmers putting a medal around each participants’ neck, was a highlight of the walk. CBC Television arrived just in time to capture the moment and interview Lynn Courey, Asante Haughton and Heather MacLean.

All funds raised by the Sashbear Walk go towards supporting Sashbear programs. The signature program is Family Connections™, a Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) skills-based Peer-to-Peer program which provides skills to families. There is no need for a referral or diagnosis and the program is free. Sashbear understands that families are on the front line in the battle to fight mental illness and they need skills and understanding. The Sashbear program is in high demand as many health providers such as CAMH, SickKids, and the Canadian Mental Health Association are referring families to Sashbear.

The Sashbear Foundation is leading the drive to expand access to the Family Connections™ program across Canada. Programs are now running in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.


Sashbear Walk pictures

Pictures from the Sashbear walk from Diana Fernandez and Jordan Cait. Just click on the images below to see full albums.



Sashbear Walk Video

Wajih Adbalnour's video of the 2018 Sashbear walk


One day, One community, One Team, One Dream And YOU helped us make it happen!


Our Walk Sponsors

Thank you to our sponsors of this year's Sashbear Walk and to the Vogtle family for their generous donation:


Thank you for making this walk a huge success!

...and book your calendars for next year's walk on Sunday May 26, 2019!

The Sashbear Team

  • We are all doing the best we can and we can all do better...
  • Let's remove stigma from mental illness and Borderline Personality Disorder...
  • We are all in this together, you are not alone...
  • Validation before problem solving...
  • Emotion Regulation Disorder is the new name for Borderline Personality Disorder...
  • Let's teach DBT skills in schools...
  • Let's intervene, let's intervene early...
  • Show me compassion and empathy first, don't just tell me how to change
  • Let go of judgments and believe in me so that I can believe in myself
  • Accept me so that I can better accept myself
  • We are all doing the best we can and we can all do better next time
  • Take care of yourself then you can attend to others
  • Be mindful - Observe, describe, participate effectively
  • Observe your own emotions rise and that of others, pause then engage effectively
  • Strive to be wise, not just rational or emotional
  • Change what you can, accept what you cannot
  • Validation is not agreement
  • Validate, Validate Validate
  • Be supportive, let go of judgements
  • We can't control having strong emotions but we can change how we respond to them
  • Hope is everything and is always there even when I cannot see it
  • BPD is more common than Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder combined 6%
  • The suicide rate of BPD victims is 400 times that of general population
  • BPD is the third leading killer of young women between the ages of 15-24
  • 1 of 5 seek help, 4 of 5 benefit from treatment
  • 4,000 young people die by suicide per year in Canada
  • I am not the disorder. I am a person
  • Stop the Stigma - by Speaking Up
  • Living with BPD is like not having an emotional skin
  • Genetic vulnerabilities and invalidating environment could lead to BPD
  • Breathe
  • Mindfulness is not what you think
  • Mindfulness is being present moment to moment
  • Mindfulness is just observing, paying attention to non-judgement
  • Patience, trust, non-striving and acceptance
  • Mindfulness does not come by takes practice
  • Let your breath be your anchor to observe thoughts as they arise
  • Observe thoughts as they come and go like waves on the ocean
  • Pay attention to what you are actually paying attention to
  • What we frequently think we become
  • Turning my auto-pilot off
  • Only that day dawns to which we are awake - Thoreau Walden
  • It is a radical act of love to just just down and be quiet for a time by YOURSELF
  • You are HERE!
  • Make each moment count!
  • I am a valuable part of all that EXISTS
  • I am Love. ALL is Love
  • The practice of mindfulness is not to follow your heart but to train your heart
  • It's OK, let it be
  • Smile at thoughts, they are empty. The only power thoughts have is the power you give them
  • The benefit will come to your life with consistent mindfulness practice everyday
  • Whatever you do to make it mindful!
  • Kindness is pure wisdom
  • Mindfulness is free or craving, want or hate
  • Be gentle to yourself as well as others
  • When you feel connected to someone that connection gives you purpose
  • Practice kindness whenever possible. It's always possible - Dalai Lama