Canada Reads 2016

Clara Hughes on the books that made her a champion

Canada Reads 2016 panellist Clara Hughes has had the career most athletes only dream of - including Keita Ali, the fictional hero in the book she'll defend for CBC's annual battle of the books. The multitalented six-time Olympic medallist and mental health advocate is defending former Canada Reads winner Lawrence Hill's latest novel, The Illegal. 

But first, Hughes shares a few books that have shaped her remarkable life and career so far.

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The book that made her feel less alone


The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell helped me begin to understand the unusual and lonely path I was on as an athlete. It helped me accept the pursuit of human excellence and realize that not everyone was going to understand the things I learned along the way, and that this was okay.

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The book with quotes she lives by


Bill Moyer's The Power of Myth: Interviews with Joseph Campbell is an easier read than Campbell's more textbook reads on mythology. "Follow your bliss" and "You cannot cure the world of sorrow but you can choose to live in joy" are a few of the many quotes that profoundly affected and directed my life in and out of sport. It's inspiring to feel the passion Campbell has and how he breaks down the barriers between cultures and faiths, bringing all humans together.

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The book that helped her through the Olympics


Artist of Life is a compilation of Bruce Lee's essays written in the years he was a philosophy student. Lee was so much more than a brilliant martial artist. He was a deep and rich individual learning and growing, always seeking a clearer way to pursue life and art. I read this book during a few of the Olympics I competed in and his reflections prompted a clearer idea of movement that led to my best races.

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The book that motivated her as a young athlete


Zorba the Greek made me - and still makes me - want to live in a bigger way. Zorba himself is larger than life and lives in the biggest way imaginable. The book is tragic and joyous all at once, and a beautiful display of the human condition. I read this book as a young athlete travelling the globe and it made me realize how small I could allow my life to be if I moved through experiences with blinders on.

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The writer whose books she always reads


Any book by Thich Nhat Hahn. We have over 20 of his books. His reflections and ideas on mindfulness continue to shape who I am and who I evolve to be in life. He is a wonderful human being and his writings are always welcomed into our home.

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The book she found solace in as a teenager


Reading J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye made me feel less alone. I came from a dysfunctional family and was pretty confused. The protagonist was much of what I felt to be when I was young. I did a lot of stupid things because of this confusion. The book really resonated with me.

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The book she can read over and over again


I have re-read Siddhartha so many times. It's about life and what you can live for. It's about gurus and teachers, about the lessons that are inside every one of us. It is an inspiring read that never fails to bring me back on the path I am meant to walk on. I just read this again during the latter part of my Appalachian Trail hike in 2015.

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