Books·My Life In Books

Clara Hughes on the books that made her a champion

Olympian and mental health advocate Clara Hughes shares seven books that helped her through the trials of being an elite athlete.
Clara Hughes won six Olympic medals for Canada in speed skating and cycling. Above, she celebrates her bronze finish at the 2010 Vancouver Games in the 5,000 meter speed skating race. (Chris Carlson/Canadian Press)

Canadian athletes looking for advice as they head to PyeongChang in February should take a leaf from Clara Hughes' book. The elite speed skater and cyclist has won multiple medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games — and was the 2016 Canada Reads champion.

Below, Hughes, who wrote the book Open Heart, Open Mindshares a few books that have helped her through the trials of being an athlete.

The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell is best known by his own often repeated phrase: "Follow your bliss." (Princeton Bollingen)

"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."

The Power of Myth: Interviews with Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyer

Bill Moyer has been honoured with a Lifetime Emmy Award and a lifetime Peabody Award for his work as a television journalism. (Dale Robbins/Doubleday)

"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."

Artist of Life by Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. (Dale Robbins/Tuttle Publishing)

"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."

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Nikos Kazantzakis is a widely celebrated Greek novelist.

"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."

No Mud, No Lotus by Thich Nhat Hahn

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most well known Zen masters in the world. (Parallax Press)

"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."

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

J.D. Salinger's classic novel The Catcher in the Rye was originally published in 1951. (Back Bay Books)

"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."

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Herman Hesse was awarded The Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. (Bantam Books)

"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."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.