Sometimes, the greatest gift you can give is the promise of a memory.
Jeff Ward died by suicide on July 2, 2018. Today, one year later, Jeff’s family are announcing the annual Ride With Me initiative in support of mental health awareness. Partnering with Walton Raceway and local Huron County charity Tanner Steffler Foundation, the Ward family are hoping the event will help reduce the stigma around mental health in both the racing community and the community in general:
“Jeff was always a quiet guy,” states Tanner Ward, KTM Red Bull Thor Factory Race Team rider. “He never said anything, and I know that if Jeff would have talked about his struggle just a little bit, our entire family would have done anything to support him. It’s obviously easy to say that now, but that’s why we’re doing this: We want people to know that they aren’t less of a person for talking about their struggles, there is no reason to feel ashamed, and we want to help prevent families from ever having to go through what we’ve been through.”
Riding alongside and working with other pro athletes, industry leaders and friends within the motocross community, Tanner will lead the group on a bicycle ride from the 2019 Walton TransCan GNC to Cowbell Brewing Co. in Blyth, a 28-kilometer round trip. The ride will be an opportunity to not only spread awareness but to also meet those who may also be struggling, the friends and families affected and represent an act of hope for a better future.
“We’re proud to be able to support Tanner and the entire Ward family with this initiative, and of course partnering with the Tanner Steffler Foundation on it is the right fit,” explains Walton Raceway co-owner Melody Hodgson. “We regularly work with youth and students who are benefitting from a more open dialogue regarding mental health. The change in conversation is working. Whether they themselves are struggling, or a friend or family member is, their ability to openly talk about the issues at hand and their decreased reservation in doing so is a direct result of seeing and hearing their community’s role models talk about their own realities regarding mental health. For the Canadian motocross community, Tanner Ward is that role model.“
The event will take place from 11:00 am where riders, supporters and key industry personnel will depart Walton Raceway to begin the first half of the journey to Cowbell Brewing Co. A noon welcome and light lunch will be provided, and silent auction will take place featuring limited edition motocross memorabilia and event sponsor merchandise. Riders will return to Walton Raceway at 1:00 pm. Event T-Shirts will be available for purchase at Cowbell and throughout the week at the Walton TransCan. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Tanner Steffler Foundation and CMHA Woodstock (the Ward family’s hometown).
John Steffler, co-founder of the Tanner Steffler Foundation, is ready for the change we need: “We’re thankful for the opportunity to be able to work with Tanner, the Ward family, and of course everyone at Walton Raceway. This message is so important for everyone, not just for those in the motocross community nor is it limited to Huron County. Everyone has mental health, but not everyone has mental wellness. We’ve got to encourage this conversation in all facets of our lives, it’s the only way we’re going to begin to make a difference”.
Join us on August 16th as we cycle for mental health awareness. As we cycle in honour of those we have lost, in the hope that we can help those who remain, and in memory of those who will always be waving their t-shirt in the corners of every track.
Anyone wishing to participate in the event, volunteer, or lend their support, is more than welcome. Registration is free, and the first 50 riders who commit will receive a custom Marin Bikes limited edition event jersey. Please contact Melody at Walton Raceway for more information: 519-870-RACE (7223 – text/call) or ?email@example.com
Full event details can be found on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/2298697917115245/
Why Walton and the Tanner Steffler Foundation?
The Walton TransCan serves as a perfect backdrop for this special event. Jeff Ward’s favourite track was Walton, and we were honoured to host the family last fall as they celebrated his memories here. Tanner is also a multi-time national amateur champion at Walton, and the TransCan has been a local event for Tanner who grew up just over an hour away.
The Tanner Steffler Foundation is a foundation local to Huron County. Established in August 2017 by John & Heather Steffler after losing their 19-year-old son to mental health and substance use disorder – specifically opioid addiction. The focus of the foundation is to enhance and improve the Mental Health and Addiction resources and support networks that are in place for youth between the ages of 12-24 within Huron County. Youth Mental Health and Addiction is a broad area of concern for the entire healthcare, law and education partners and is an identified area of need within our community.
And for Tanner Steffler himself, he spent several summers working as a flagger and track kid around the raceway; his family is originally from Walton. The Ward brothers and Tanner Steffler’s lives would have crossed many times as the years passed, without any of them the wiser.
Key Partner Social Media Pages (Facebook): Tanner Steffler Foundation Racing for Mental Wellness Walton Raceway Cowbell Brewing Co