Olympic cyclist and speed skater Clara Hughes was lovingly referred to as Dundas’ adopted daughter Saturday, at a plaque dedication renaming the steep hill on Sydenham Road on which she trained for seven years.
It is now called ‘Clara’s Climb.’
The adoring crowd of about 200 to 300 gathered at the lookout atop Clara’s Climb and laid claim to Hughes with an affection rivalling that of her native Winnipeg.
And Hughes, with her big, bright and genuine smile, responded in kind, showing her appreciation at the ongoing admiration and support from Hamiltonians.
“This means the world to me,” she told the cheering crowd.
“It just goes to show everything does indeed go in cycles and circles,” said Hughes. “I went up and down this hill, I went around and around on an oval on ice and here we are again today.”
The plaque, which sat on a temporary stand, is now gone until it can be permanently installed.
It says Hughes “passed this lookout hundreds of times” and in all kinds of weather as she trained for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where she won two bronze medals in cycling events. She is the only Olympian to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games, taking home a gold, a silver and two bronze for speed skating in three Winter Olympics.
The ever-smiling Hughes was accompanied through Dundas and up the now-famous hill by 11 young local cyclists who call the Sydenham hill their right of passage. She presented them with Clara’s Climb medals commemorating the event, telling each one, “Good luck, eh.”
Local dignitaries, including Mayor Bob Bratina, MP David Sweet, MPP Ted McMeekin, Police Chief Glenn De Caire and City Councillor Russ Powers, attended the dedication.
So did Hughes’ Olympics teammates in Atlanta — Paula Schnurr (who is a Dundas resident) and Steve Bauer.
Olympians Curt Harnett and Mark Walters were also there, along with Mirek Mazur, the coach who moved to Dundas and drew Hughes to Hamilton and the natural terrain of the Niagara Escarpment.
In the 1990s, the Winnipeg native followed her cycling coach to Dundas and spent seven years cycling up and down that hill and others in the area while training for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Hughes said she visualized the gruelling Dundas climb many times during her big cycling races.
“A lot of my strength and endurance was built on this hill,” she said.
She told the kids at the event: “You guys can do anything and I hope that my actions in sports … stand beyond the results.”
She encouraged the kids to go beyond pursuing excellence in sports or whatever they take on, to make a difference in the world.
“Anybody can win a gold medal,” she said. “But what are you going to do with that success? … You can be more than great and good and the best in the world. You can change the world and that’s what I encourage you to do.”
The role model lives her message, pursuing humanitarian work, supporting mental health initiatives and giving portions of her winnings to sports for underprivileged children.
She praised her mother, Maureen, who was with her on Saturday, for helping to make her dream of becoming an Olympian come true.
“I was a kid in Winnipeg and getting into trouble. I said I wanted to be an Olympian and my mom made a phone call and the next thing I knew I was at a provincial team practice with my hockey skates and my ringette helmet on. She made it happen.”
Hughes urged other parents to do the same.
“Make it happen for your kids, whether it’s sports, music, arts, dance. If they show interest in something, find that outlet, ‘cause you never know where that can go.”