Clara Hughes is one of the biggest stories to emerge in Canadian sports as an Olympian, Humanitarian and an adventurist. She is an athlete for all season, be it winter sport or summer sport. Here are some facts about the Canadian cyclist:
She was born on September 27, 1972, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, to Maureen Hughes and Ken Hughes. She has a sister, Dodie Hughes.
After her parents split when she was 9, she experimented with drugs, regularly skipped school and ran away from home several times. She was the ringleader of a group of hardscrabble kids.
Hughes was inspired to take up speed skating at the age of 16 years after watching Gaetan Boucher, the 1984 Olympic champion, featuring in a program for 1988 Calgary Olympics.
She was enrolled in aspring training camp at Winnipeg Speed Skating Club. Despite retreating to her old habits initially,her desire overtook her and went from failing at school to becoming a straight-A student.
Competing at the junior national championship, she won the 3000m title and went on to compete for two more years, before quitting to take-up cycling.
In 1990, she started cycling as a means of cross-training for the winter sport and her potential as a cyclist was spotted by Andrea Auch, the sister of two-time speed skating silver medalist, Susan Auch. Hughes took a chance and gave it a try and finishedeighth in her very first race to win $ 850 prize money.
In 1990, at the Western Canada Games in Winnipeg, Manitoba, she won five medals including four gold medals in the road and track races. She also competed in her first ever Nationals Championship for three medals.
She established herself as a major force in the world of cycling and in 1991 she won a silver medal in the 3000m Individual Pursuit track at the PAN American Games.
She was part of Specialized-Pedal Racing Team and was first coached by Mirek Mazur, the cycling coach in Hamilton, who gave her the conditioning base apart from discipline in her training. Later it was Van Den Eynde, who taught her how to train herself.
Hughes signed her first professional contract with Kahlua Cycling Team worth $7000 in 1993 and started the season with win in the U.S domestic race andin Europe. Sin the same year she was placed second in the women’s Tour de France, before a nasty crash put her back to finish 19th overall.
In 1994, she won the annual Women’s Challenge bicycle race held in the western United States with one of the stages crested Galena Summit at 8,701 feet above sea level. She also won the 57.6 mile Liberty Classic race in 1995.
Hughes won silver medal in the individual road race and bronze medal in the individual time trial at the 1995 Pan American Games held in Argentina. She went on to win eight Pan American medals in four games all.
In 1996, Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, she earned two bronze medals, one in the time trial and one in the most demanding of cycling events, the road race. These were the first ever cycling medal for Canadian women in summer Olympics.
In the post-Olympic season, exhaustion found her injured both physically and mentally. After crashing in New Zealand and splitting her face open, she decided to quit the sports for the misery it was causing. To overcome the depression she did series of odd-jobs, went for bike rides, painting her friend’s house, desert camping before returning to racing.
In 2001, she returned to speed skating under able guidance of Coach Xiuli Wang, a former world champion speed skater. In seven weeks she made the Canadian National Team, in three months, finished seventh in her first World Championship on ice.
She qualified for her first Winter Olympics, at Salt Lake City, U.S, and finished third in the 5000m race for bronze medal. She became the second speed skater to win medals in both summer and winter games.
After the skating season, she went back to cycle race and in the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, Hughes won the individual time trial and a bronze in the 24 km points race on the track.
For her honeymoon, she and her husband took cycle tour of the Dempster Highway camping in the bush, through the Arctic Circle to Inuvik. They hitched a ride back to Dawson City, hiked the Tombstone Mountain area the rode back down to Whitehorse.
Coming into 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, she was under trained and uninspired after recovering from pneumonia seven weeks before the games. She managed to win silver in Team Pursuit after finishing ninth in 3000m race.
A documentary on ‘Right to Play’ filmed in Uganda the morning of the 5000m, inspired her to perform seeing the children living such difficult lives. She came from behind on the last lap of the race in the last pair to win her first ever gold medal at an Olympics.
Later she donated $ 10,000 to the programs and the final tally of donation made by those who followed her call to support Right to Play was close to half a million dollar.
With her experience as commentator for CBC during the World Road Cycling Championships in Austria, she once again served as commentator for cycling events during 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Hughes set a Canadian record in 10,000m speed skating on March 13, 2007, with a time of 14:19.73 at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.
She had the honor of being the Canadian Flag Bearer for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and made it memorable with a bronze medal in the 5000m, the final Olympic speed skating race of her career.
She announced her support for the Bell Let’s Talk Mental Health initiative, including Bell Let’s Talk Today. As the National Spokesperson for the program, she used her past struggle with depression to relate with others.
In 2015, she published her memoir ‘Open Heart, Open Mind’ her personal journey told with honesty and passion through physical and mental pain.
In 2007, she was made member of ‘Order of Canada’ and on April 07, 2010, was made an officer of the Order of Canada.
On September 23, 2010, Hughes received honorary degree from the University of New Brunswick and on June 14, 2016, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Victoria.
At the age of 38 years, after winning six medals in the Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics Games, she made a comeback at 2012 London Olympics. She was placed 32nd in the Individual Road Race and 5th in the Road Time Trial.
In 2015, Hughes spent 139 days hiking the Appalachian Trail, which covered more than 3,500km, stretching between Springer Mountain in Georgia and northern terminus on Mount Katahdin in Maine.