Books·Canadian

Open Heart, Open Mind

Clara Hughes' memoir is about her life as an Olympian and her struggle with severe depression.

Clara Hughes

In 2006, when Clara Hughes stepped onto the Olympic podium in Torino, Italy, she became the first and only athlete ever to win multiple medals in both summer and winter games. Four years later, she was proud to carry the Canadian flag at the head of the Canadian team as they participated in the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. But there's another story behind her celebrated career as an athlete, behind her signature billboard smile.

While most professional athletes devote their entire lives to training, Clara spent her teenage years using drugs and drinking to escape the stifling home life her alcoholic father had created in Elmwood, Winnipeg. She was headed nowhere fast when, at sixteen, she watched transfixed in her living room as gold medal speed skater Gaétan Boucher effortlessly raced in the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Dreaming of one day competing herself, Clara channeled her anger, frustration and raw ambition into the endurance sports of speed skating and cycling. By 2010, she had become a six-time Olympic medalist.

But after more than a decade in the gruelling world of professional sports that stripped away her confidence and bruised her body, Clara began to realize that her physical extremes, her emotional setbacks, and her partying habits were masking a severe depression. After winning bronze in the last speed skating race of her career, she decided to retire from that sport, determined to repair herself. She has emerged as one of our most committed humanitarians, advocating for a variety of social causes both in Canada and around the world. In 2010, she became national spokesperson for Bell Canada's Let's Talk campaign in support of mental health awareness, using her Olympic standing to share the positive message of the power of forgiveness. (From Simon & Schuster)

Clara Hughes is a cyclist, speed skater, author and humanitarian. She is the only Canadian athlete to win multiple medals at both the summer and winter Olympic Games. Open Heart, Open Mind is her first book.

From the book

The brushing-off ceremony was conducted amid candles, singing, and chanting, with kids laughing and playing in the background. An elder addressed us in his native language. His gestures and soothing voice, like the tones of Mother Nature, made me feel like he was telling the story of the earth, wind, sun and rain. I sat smiling with the others, taking in the energy and the calmness of his voice, and feeling completely within the moment.

Another elder addressed each of us in turn, opening our hearts to the energy of the flame and brushing away negativity. He told us, "I cannot heal you of your pain. Only you can heal yourself with your open heart and your open mind."

At one point, Tewanee's thirteen-year-old daughter stood in the middle of the room, crying. Though my friends and I didn't know what was happening, we listened respectfully as the elders told her, "Thank you for sharing your beautiful tears with us. Let them flow."


From Open Heart, Open Mind by Clara Hughes ©2015. Published by Simon & Schuster Canada.

Interviews with Clara Hughes

The former champion speedskater and cyclist talks about her candid memoir of ups and down in her life. 20:07
In her memoir 'Open Heart, Open Mind,' Hughes writes about her alcoholic father, along with her struggles with an eating disorder, and depression. 14:25

 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

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.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now