Clara Hughes - Photo credit Simon Baker

Speaker, Celebrity

Clara Hughes

Six-Time Olympic Medalist | Mental Health Advocate

“Being a champion is not just about winning,” says six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes. Believing that actions off the track define us as much as those on it, Hughes inspires people toward success in all areas of their lives. Her candid, personal talks range from how she believes sports can change lives to her struggle with depression—fully embodying the idea that each of us can overcome challenges to become the champions we’re meant to be.

Clara is the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both summer and winter Olympic Games. A six-time Olympian, Hughes has won a Olympic medals representing Canada in both speed skating and cycling. In addition, she served as the flag-bearer for Team Canada in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games opening ceremony.

In 2011, Clara figured prominently in the eyes of Canadians as the national spokesperson for Bell Let’s Talk, a campaign designed to end the stigma attached to mental illness. In 2014, undertaking “Clara’s Big Ride,” she completed a 110-day national bicycle tour through every province and territory in Canada. As part of the ride, she covered more than 11,000 kilometres, visited 105 communities and did over 235 events raising awareness for mental health. She is also the author of the bestselling, acclaimed memoir, Open Heart, Open Mind.

Over the course of her distinguished career, Clara has won countless awards and accolades. She received the International Olympic Committee’s Sport and Community Trophy; she was honoured with a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame; she was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame; and she is a member of the Order of Manitoba and an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Clara sits on the International Board of Directors for Right To Play, a global organization that uses the transformative power of play to educate and empower children facing adversity, and is also an Honourary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is part of a national, comprehensive response to the Indian Residential School legacy.

Open Heart, Open Mind

From one of Canada’s most decorated Olympians comes a raw but life-affirming story of one woman’s struggle with depression. In a world where winning meant everything, her biggest competitor was herself.

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.

Told with honesty and passion, Open Heart, Open Mind is Clara’s personal journey through physical and mental pain to a life where love and understanding can thrive. This revelatory and inspiring story will touch the hearts of all Canadians.

The Power of Sport and Play

Six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes is distinguished both as an athlete and for her humanitarian work. In addition to being a Right To Play Athlete Ambassador, Clara has participated in programs impacting youth around the world and in Canada, sharing how sport positively impacted her own life. She is an example of the transformative qualities of sport and play.

Clara is an Officer of the Order of Canada, and was awarded the International Olympic Committee’s prestigious ‘Sport and the Community’ award for her commitment to promoting the values of sport and play around the world.

After winning gold at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Clara donated $10,000 of her personal savings to Right To Play, while challenging Canadian businesses and individuals to match her donation or give what they could. This ignited awareness across Canada and resulted in donations of more than $450,000 in support of the play programs. She donated her $10,000 Olympic medal bonus in the Vancouver 2010 Games to a local grassroots organization called Take-A-Hike, which uses adventure based learning for at-risk youth to re-enter the school system and thrive in an outdoor environment. Clara has travelled to Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Liberia, Uganda and Rwanda learning the intricacies of programs igniting confidence and motivation in young people. She has also contributed to outdoor programs in the far north as well as hockey programs in the Inuit region of Northern Québec.

“I have witnessed the benefit of sport and play firsthand and from personal experience how important it is for kids to have sport as an outlet for energy, anger and even fear.  It’s important to ensure that children in Canada and around the world have the opportunity to learn critical life skills that will set them on a more positive life path.”

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