By John Matisz
Clara Hughes is not your typical Olympian.
For starters, she’s the only Canadian ever to medal in both the winter and summer Olympics. Hughes is also the only athlete in the world to capture multiple medals in both Olympics.
Hughes’ story and life journey also stands out for another reason: She’s battled, and beaten, depression.
About a decade ago, Hughes began feeling her ambitions as an athlete were taking a toll on her not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well.
A fierce competitor who was willing to do whatever it took to stay at the top, Hughes says she was “run into the ground” by those looking to squeeze every ounce of potential out of her.
“That ultimate success led me to a state of depression because I had no balance,” said the cyclist and speed skater. “To be quite frank, it absolutely destroyed me. I couldn’t take a day off because I thought (my coaches would think) I was lazy if I did.”
Over time, the Winnipegger found a way to balance ambition with downtime, which, among other things, boosted her spirits. She sought professional help, and it paid off.
Now 40, Hughes has six Olympic medals to her name — two in road cycling at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and another four in speed skating spread over three different Olympics.
A crowd of 1,100 was on hand Tuesday to hear her speak for 30 minutes. The massive support, she said, blew her away.
When asked about the progression of health awareness in Canada, she quickly scanned the room filled with dozens of tables. Ten years ago the topic wouldn’t have drawn such a big crowd.
“No way,” she said.