Capturing a country through sport: The crossovers
To celebrate our country’s birthday, the Star is showcasing 150 of the quintessential Canadian sporting characters and moments of the last 150 years. In Part 2 of our 10-part series, we highlight the Canadians whose skill and talent exceeded their chosen sporting specialty.
Clara Hughes holds up her gold medal for Women's 5000m Speed skating and a small maple leaf that was hidden in the ice of the track at the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. (Bernard Weil / Toronto Star File Photo)
To celebrate our country’s birthday, the Star is showcasing 150 of the quintessential Canadian sporting characters and moments of the last 150 years.
In the second instalment of our 10-part series, we highlight the Canadians whose skill and talent exceeded their chosen sporting specialty.
The first came after a stirring ride through the streets of Buckhead, Ga., the site of the road racing competition at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a fresh-faced, red-haired darling of Canadian cycling capturing the hearts of sports fans across the country with a bronze medal in road cycling.
The last medal came after a blistering tour around the speed-skating oval in Vancouver in 2010, with a beloved Canadian icon, the likes of which the world had never seen, capturing yet another Olympic medal, this one the bronze in the 5,000 metres.
Vancouver marked her fifth Olympics and the medal was her sixth, a testament to the crossover sports skills of the incomparable Clara Hughes.
There are so many Canadian athletes who have been multi-faceted, so talented in sports and successful in life’s endeavours, but Hughes is one who stands out from the others because of the breadth of her accomplishments and contributions.
Now 44 years old and one of the country’s leaders in the fight for mental health awareness and initiatives, Hughes accomplished in her career things that no athlete on Earth ever has.
She competed in six Games — 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney, 2002 Salt Lake City, 2006 Turin, 2010 Vancouver, 2012 London — and six times stood upon the medal podium. She is the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Games.
But there is so much more to Hughes that’s far more important than her sporting exploits.
She says she has dealt with depression for most of her life and is an outspoken advocate for mental health issues. Her speeches inspire, her work with the annual Bell Let’s Talk initiative let people know it’s okay to ask for help. It is now the passion that replaced sporting competition in her life.
“Mental health conditions can affect anyone at any time in their lives,” she said earlier this year. “With proper education, early intervention and proper treatment, a person can not only return to life and work, they can thrive and prosper,” says Hughes. “Stigma is what prevents many people from getting help. The more mental health stories are shared, the greater the chance to break down the walls of stigma, the better chance of people getting the help they need and deserve.”