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Olympian ends cross-Canada mental health ride on Parliament Hill

Olympic athlete Clara Huges waves on stage as she completes her cross Canada tour during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday July 1, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

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Olympic athlete Clara Huges waves on stage as she completes her cross Canada tour during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday July 1, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

OTTAWA - The Canadian Olympian who cycled around Canada to raise mental health awareness ended her ride on Tuesday with a triumphant Canada Day finish on Parliament Hill.

Clara Hughes was greeted with cheers as she cycled onto the stage that was constructed in front of the Peace Tower for this year's Canada Day festivities, still in her biking gear after almost four months on the road.

Hughes, an Olympic cyclist and speed skater, has cycled more than 11,000 kilometres, passing through all 10 provinces and three territories since she kicked off her ride in March. Throughout the journey, she has discussed her own battles with depression.

"Thank you Canada, for being so beautiful, for being so amazing," Hughes told the crowd of about 25,000 people, singling out the country's aboriginal communities in particular for sharing with her their mental illness struggles.

"This ride has been like no other in my lifetime, it has been the ride of a lifetime, because it has meant a connection through struggle, not just joy."

The 41-year-old Hughes has won six Olympic medals in both cycling and speed skating, tying her with speed skater Cindy Klassen as the Canadian with the biggest haul.

Following her appearance on Parliament Hill, Hughes and her entourage were shuttled to 24 Sussex Drive for a visit with the prime minister. She then travelled to Rideau Hall, where she had lunch with Gov. Gen. David Johnston the day after he awarded her a meritorious service cross for her efforts to raise mental health awareness.

"I am relieved and happy and proud all at once, and exhausted," she told a news conference on the grounds of Rideau Hall.

She added she hopes her ride helps to remove the stigma attached to mental illness.

"On this ride, as many times as I was inspired is as many times as my heart was broken into a million pieces because I met someone who has or is struggling in silence, I met someone who lost someone."

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