WINDSOR, ONT. -- Two years ago, Adam Castle could hardly walk.

“I was just so sore, my body was so physically sore,” remembers Castle, who at the age of 31 weighed 400 lbs., and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, suffered from nerve and organ damage and early onset arthritis.

“The doctor basically said if I didn’t start to make a change, I probably wouldn’t be around to see 40,” Castle says. “And when I thought about who I’d be leaving behind: my family, my wife, my dogs and my friends, I needed to make a big change for myself.”

Castle set out small. He started biking just 15 minutes a day on a recumbent bicycle in his basement. Every few weeks, he notched it up a bit until he could comfortably spend a longer time on the bike — and take his exercise outdoors.

“There’s two choices: you can continue down that same path, where you don’t appreciate yourself, you’re not respecting your body, you’re not respecting your mind. Or, take a different path and start to try and prove that you can be different,” he says.

Castle also changed his diet and slowly progressed to longer rides, all while watching the pounds drip off.

“Along that journey I realized that mental health, without it, there was no physical health,” says Castle.

That’s why Castle was chosen to be this year’s Canadian Mental Health Association Ride Don’t Hide champion.

Castle says he was privileged to have affordable access to supports offered by CMHA — access that many people who are marginalized lack.

“Knowing there’s such a huge group of people not being fairly represented or not seeing themselves represented in the system, that’s what I really wanted to drive forward. Is making sure that access is available to everyone,” he says.

Ride Don’t Hide is a virtual event that lasts all June. All you have to do is visit the website, sign up and pick an activity to challenge yourself.

“Our goal with Ride Don’t’ Hide has always been to create a safe, supportive event that highlights the importance of our mental health and address stigma,” says Kim Willis, the director of communications and mental health promotion at CMHA. “Although we can’t ride together as in previous years, we have tried to keep connected with activities like Spirit Week and also supporting the sharing of stories like Adam’s.”

The fundraising goal this year is $100,000, money that goes towards non-government-funded initiatives at CMHA Windsor-Essex like suicide prevention, bereavement and mental health outreach.

“We know now more than ever that being active is such a boon for our mental wellness,” says Kim Willis, “Especially after being locked down for months, it’s so nice to get outside and be active and do things that benefit us not just physically, but mentally as well.”

Today, Castle is 33. He’s lost 170 pounds. His diabetes is in remission and he’s in a good place, both physically and mentally.

As part of Ride Don’t Hide, Castle has a goal of biking 130 kilometres each week in June.

As the event ambassador, he wants others to see his journey and walk (or ride) a similar path to self-betterment.

“When we challenge ourselves to do big things and do tough things, we rise to that occasion always,” Castle says.