Open Heart, Open Mind

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.

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Reading Group Guide

Open Heart, Open Mind
Clara Hughes
A Reading Group Guide

1. Throughout Clara’s sporting career, she endures not only intense physical pain, but also incredible emotional instability. In your opinion, does Clara’s emotionally traumatic childhood contribute to her capacity for physical endurance? How did her chaotic inner thoughts influence her focus on cycling and skating?

2. Discuss your perception of mental health before and after reading Clara’s story. What have you learned through reading her memoir?

3. The ability to transition between speed skating, cycling, skating, and then back to cycling is an incredible feat of strength, dedication, and adaptability. What can we learn from Clara’s willingness to start from scratch by participating in these two sports?

4. Clara realizes that much of her pain is connected to the guilt she feels about her family’s dysfunction. Though some of this pain is mitigated by helping others, ultimately Clara must let go of her sense of responsibility for her family members. Are you or is someone you know struggling with a similar situation?

5. As the title suggests, readers are welcomed into the inner workings of Clara’s mind and heart. What is your opinion about being so publicly honest? How will learning about Clara’s inner and outer struggles benefit her readership?

6. In the “permanent off-season” after her retirement, Clara had to see more

About the Author

Clara Hughes
Photograph © Simon Baker

Clara Hughes

Six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes became the only athlete to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. She is a member of the Order of Manitoba and an officer of the Order of Canada, has received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, and was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. Hughes is the national spokesperson for Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk initiative, a campaign dedicated to breaking down the stigma of mental health. In 2014, she was awarded the Meritorious Service Cross, which recognizes those whose outstanding personal commitment has brought honour to Canada. She lives with her husband, Peter, in Canmore, Alberta, and continues to enjoy bike touring and hiking.

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