A pathway to resilience

May 26th, 2015

Sandy Woolfrey-Fahey

A pathway to resilience

Gemma Hickey, an arts alumna of Memorial and a current master’s student in gender studies, has tackled many issues in her life.

Gemma Hickey on Signal Hill in St. John’s after a training climb to the top that involved dragging a tire behind her. 

She is a vocal advocate who speaks up for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, at-risk youth and people living with HIV and AIDs.

However, one of the earliest issues Ms. Hickey has had to deal with was her own: sexual abuse at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest.

“I’m not one to stay silent on issues,” said Ms. Hickey. “As an adult I felt my public voice, community connections and life experiences could benefit others who’d also experienced abuse.”

In November 2014 Ms. Hickey successfully launched The Pathways Foundation to support victims of sexual abuse within religious institutions. To support her foundation, she is undertaking the Hope Walk in the summer of 2015, a cross-island walk from Port aux Basques to St. John’s to raise awareness and funds.

“Through training for the walk I’ve become healthier, lost weight and become stronger, but since starting the foundation, many people are opening up to me about their own abuse. I credit my physical training with helping me to be mentally stronger to carry the burden of the experiences of others.”

She hopes to encourage others to integrate physical fitness and healthier food into their lifestyle in order to combat mental illness. Ms. Hickey credits her newfound love of physical activity for not just a more fit body, but a healthier mental state as well, an area she has struggled with since the abuse.

Ms. Hickey’s training is being led by Dr. TA Loeffler, professor with the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation (HKR). Many of the other trainers she’s working with are past and present students of the school.

“One of the things I love most about working in HKR is that we support people in becoming the best they can be,” said Dr. Loeffler. “Leading Gemma’s training team with other members of the HKR family has epitomized this for me. Gemma and I have been training together since September for her Hope Walk and it has been so inspiring to see her progress and commit to this enormous project.”

Using the skills, expertise, and knowledge gained from training in HKR, each team member is helping Ms. Hickey develop a different aspect of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength and health she will need to fulfill her mission. Each team member is volunteering time to this effort – a HKR tradition of service leadership – to help her complete this more than 900 kilometre walk across the province.  

Ultimately, Ms. Hickey hopes the journey will help her turn a traumatic experience into something positive for herself and others.