Having served as a women’s hockey coach and a competitive ball hockey player, Ashley Gilbank’s cross country journey of Canada was a source of great inspiration. Following in the footsteps of Terry Fox and Rick Hansen, Gilbank’s journey began in Newfoundland in June 2012.
The inspiration for her journey, called Skate4Life 2012, came after the loss of a close friend, Rachel Spearing. After training for one year to undertake this courageous cross-country journey, the beneficiaries of her journey were Do It for Daron, the foundation that honors the life of Daron Richardson, daughter of former NHLer Luke Richardson, and sister of Cornell hockey player Morgan Richardson.
Gilbank, who currently resides in Ottawa with her husband Pierre, returned to Canada’s capital region six weeks after her journey began. At Parliament Hill, she was greeted to a heroes welcome and was greeted by Luke Richardson.
She had the opportunity to meet the Richardson’s in October 2011, when the Ottawa 67’s match versus the Plymouth Whalers was held in honor of Do It for Daron. That was when she first informed the Richardson family of her plans to roller blade across the country for mental health research.
Her time in Ontario took the most time; an astounding 45 days (more than the first five provinces combined). In the middle of one of the warmest summers on record, Gilbank was hospitalized for fatigue. A source of great concern for her followers, Gilbank was determined to continue after a few days rest.
As Gilbank journey across the Canadian prairies, the world of hockey was very relevant in her travails. When Gilbank arrived in Winnipeg, she was given a tour of the MTS Centre, home of the Jets. The journey hit home for Gilbank as the Jets were still lamenting the loss of Rick Rypien, one of several NHL enforces that passed away in the summer of 2011. Rypien’s loss in his battle with mental health reinforced the importance of Gilbank’s journey.
Upon arriving in Alberta, Gilbank was warmly greeted by many in women’s hockey. While she had the opportunity to tour Rexall Place and meet Calgary Flames alumni at the Saddledome, she was also introduced to the Canadian National Women’s Team. In meeting some of the world’s greatest women’s ice hockey players, she also made new fans, and more importantly, new friends.
Hayley Wickenheiser, the greatest women’s ice hockey player ever, took the opportunity to have Gilbank meet her club team, the University of Calgary Dinos. As Gilbank’s goal during the cross country journey was to raise $10,000, she was ecstatic when the club made a generous and heartwarming of $1,000.
The culmination of her journey in British Columbia was a true storybook ending. After Thanksgiving weekend (celebrated in Canada in early October), Gilbank was in Victoria, British Columbia ready to complete her cross country journey. She was greeted by Sandy Spearing, the mother of Rachel. The journey was one of great inspiration for the Spearing family. The opportunity for Gilbank to end her journey with the mother of her close friend in attendance provided her with the strength to finish on a high note.