Have you ever felt that nudge deep within; that feeling when you knew you were meant to do something? Toastmaster, Tara Laidlaw, responded to that nudge and now, she is on a mission. A mission that pushes her well beyond her comfort zone.

On June 24th, Laidlaw will launch a 74 day walk from Innisfail, Canada around Alberta; to bring awareness to the struggles of Mental Illness. While fighting depression and anxiety, Laidlaw has uncovered some life changing resources that have not only changed her life, but will build support for others who are battling their own illnesses.

Laidlaw came across a campaign called Always Keep Fighting when the monster of her illness was winning. Always Keep Fighting is an online campaign that was inspired by Supernatural actor, Jared Padalecki, who was struggling with depression. The campaign raises awareness and support for people with many forms of mental illness. It provides links, messages, and even connects those who understand the struggles of Mental Illness to those who need that support. Having these messages easily available, especially through smartphones, can be the single most important thing to bring a glimmer of hope and relief. For Laidlaw, the post on the Always Keep Fighting website, of Padalecki dancing with his son, had saved her life.

In addition to the support from Always Keep Fighting, Laidlaw began walking. Walking is a calming activity when she can take the time to pray. Even though raising two children and the Alberta weather doesn’t always make it easy to walk outside, Laidlaw hits the road as often as she is able to.

Originally, Laidlaw planned to combine her saving graces—Always Keep Fighting and walking—into one event, “The Woman Walking for Always Keep Fighting”, where she can say thank you to Always Keep Fighting for being there. That plan was simple – walk to the Always Keep Fighting headquarters in Austin Texas and present them with a donation. But once the word got out, the Walk grew to be more than a just walk. It became an initiative where Laidlaw will bring awareness and education to communities on her route from Central Alberta to Texas.

Laidlaw connected with a physical trainer, a dietician, and started a list of necessities for the walk. She brought on personal assistants to help with the administration tasks. But there was one major challenge that Laidlaw had to overcome. She was getting asked to speak to numerous groups of people about mental illness. “Speaking on the phone and talking to people about me walking though their towns was hard enough” Laidlaw said, “But speaking in front of groups of people terrified me. I was lucky to have found Toastmasters at Registration Night [in Innisfail]”. She joined the Alberta Skytalkers Toastmasters club the following week; She wasn’t going to let her fear of speaking prevent her from completing this walk.

Laidlaw started Toastmasters in September 2016 and immediately dove into building her speaking skills. She started by simply introducing herself at the Toastmaster meetings, which grew to accepting the challenge of doing Table topics, an impromptu 2-minute speech. Laidlaw continues to grow as she practices to build and deliver a 5-7minute prepared speech. She doesn’t stop there. She has been working at understanding the foundation of her speech by taking on meeting roles in the club. For example; being the timer for another Toastmaster’s speech teaches the rhythm of an effective speech delivery while stepping in as grammarian builds her knowledege of wording to enhance the purpose of her speech while keeping filler words at bay. Tara has made connections with her fellow Toastmasters who are helping her develop the details of her walk. But most importantly, the more Laidlaw practises and learns, the more she is able to control her nervousness to give a more powerful presentation. In six short months, she has noticeably made huge strides in building her skills and confidence, so that she can make an impact during her journey.

Toastmasters is helping Tara Laidlaw, The Woman Walking for Always Keep Fighting, make a difference to the understanding and treatment of Mental Illness. The journey is only beginning.

To financially support Laidlaw’s Walk Around Alberta, a go fund me page has been set up at www.gofundme.com/womanwalking.

To follow Laidlaw’s journey and to see when she will be speaking, visit her facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1320466814647490/