Mental Health advocate receives Rotary International’s highest honour at Whitby gala

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Published March 21, 2024 at 8:38 pm

Mike Shoreman

Mental Health advocate Mike Shoreman was given Rotary International’s greatest honour Wednesday at a gala event at the Centennial Building in Whitby.

Shoreman earned a level of fame two years ago with his epic crossings of all five Great Lakes on a paddleboard – the first person with a disability to do so – but it was his advocacy for increased mental health support in the months that followed that caught the attention of Rotary International, one of the world’s most impactful service clubs.

“Your outstanding contributions to service and dedication to making a positive impact in our community has not gone unnoticed,” Whitby Rotary Club president Danielle Hardy said in her acceptance letter to Shoreman. “The Paul Harris Award is a testament to your contributions and the unwavering leadership qualities you have consistently demonstrated.”

Named for the founder of Rotary International, the award exemplifies the Rotary motto of ‘Service Above Self.’

“Your selfless efforts through your Great Lakes’ crossing and advocacy for mental health have truly made a difference in inspiring others and embodying the spirit of Rotary,” Hardy said.

“I am very honoured,” Shoreman said of the award, which was presented with Whitby Mayor Elizabeth Roy in attendance. “It was such a nice evening.”

Shoreman joins previous recipients Jim Flaherty, Christine Elliot, Al Palladini, Des Newman, Ravi Joshi and other “inspiring leaders” in the Whitby community. Both Whitby MP Ryan Turnbull and Whitby MPP Lorne Coe also shared remarks during the event.

“I spoke about the importance of community, my team, the need for supports and what is possible when we have those supports,” he said. “As well as the need for accessible mental health supports and services for all.”

Mike Shoreman at the opening of When Hopes Breaks Through in Toronto in 2023

Shoreman’s story was turned into a documentary, When Hope Breaks Through, which has created a lot of buzz on the festival circuit since it opened in Toronto last year and its Durham Region debut in October with a special World Mental Health Day screening at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in October.

The film, by Michigan filmmaker Matthew Wagner, is the inspiring story of Shoreman, a former paddleboard coach who was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, a rare and debilitating variation of shingles that affects the facial nerves, causing facial paralysis and hearing and balance problems and ultimately leading – in Shoreman’s case – to depression and a mental health breakdown, including an attempt to take his own life.

The film explores the mental health crisis in Canada and beyond, including our relationship with our own mental health, as it immerses the audience in Shoreman’s multi-lake crossings and the challenges he faced both leading up to and during that history-making summer of ’22.

Contributions made by, and on behalf of all the Paul Harris Award recipients go to the Rotary Foundation, which turn monetary gifts into service projects that change lives both close to home and around the world.

Since it was founded more than 100 years ago, the Foundation has spent more than $4 billion on life-changing, sustainable projects.

Whitby Councillor Niki Lundquist was also among those honoured with the award, which was established in 1957. The number of Paul Harris Fellows around the world crested the million mark in 2006.

 

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