By Atara Shields
Cassie Sharp arrived at Ryerson from Ottawa five years ago thinking about Daron Richardson.
Daron was 14 years old when she died by suicide in 2010. She played in the Ottawa Lady Senators organization, and her father, Luke Richardson, was an assistant coach for the Ottawa Senators. Her name and the purple heart that usually accompanies it have since become synonymous with the conversation about youth mental health, particularly among women’s hockey teams in the Ottawa area.
After her passing, Daron’s friends and teammates began creating purple hearts—her favourite colour— and sticking them to their helmets. They started using purple tape for their sticks, and purple laces in their skates as ways to remember her.
“From there, ‘Doing it for Daron’ came,” said Sharp, now in her fifth year with the Rams. “Everyone was playing their games and having the mentality to do it for Daron.”
Do It For Daron (DIFD) is a youth-driven initiative focusing on encouraging youth to discuss mental health, which raises funds for the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health.
“It became really big, trying to make a positive thing out of such a tragedy,” said Sharp. “Trying to erase the stigma to try to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
Sharp played hockey with Daron’s sister, and was coached by Daron’s father. Like many players from the Lady Sens organization did when they moved to play collegiate hockey outside of Ottawa, when Sharp joined the Rams hockey team, she approached the captains about doing something for the DIFD fund to help spread awareness.
“I wanted to bring it to Ryerson and spread the awareness a bit farther than just Ottawa,” she said.
They were on board, and that first year they hosted a dodgeball tournament. For the last four years, the purple hearts have been stuck to the Ryerson Rams women’s hockey team’s helmets once a year, with the letters “D.I.F.D.” emblazoned in the middle. They wear purple practice jerseys and laces, and fundraise during intermission.
“I think that it’s been really a nice thing for our team to take on and make annual, and it’s been really successful so far,” said Sharp.
The Rams raised about $2,400 from the matinee game against the Waterloo Warriors on Jan. 14.
But the Rams’ focus on mental health doesn’t begin or end on DIFD game day.
Sharp said that from her experience, Ryerson athletics does a good job of taking the athletes’ mental health seriously. Their counsellor Colleen Conroy Amato, who is very involved and available for the players at all times, dropped the puck at this year’s game.
The players feel conversations about mental well-being need to be ongoing amongst themselves as a team.
“As athletes, it’s important for us to recognize that mental illness can affect anyone and everyone,” said Sharp. “You need to know to ask someone, ‘Are you ok?’”
“We’re in this as a team for sure, it’s like having 25 sisters who are just always on your side,” she added.