Thursday 15 October 2015

Book Review - Open Heart, Open Mind by Clara Hughes

I still remember watching Clara Hughes in the Women's 5,000km event at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, pumping her legs around the final turn of the event and the Canadian announcer shouting, "and here comes CLARA HUGHES!" She crossed the finish line setting a track record. Later in the event that record would be broken twice and she walked away with the bronze medal at the age of 40.

Clara is the only athlete in the world to have won multiple medals at both the summer and winter Olympics, four for speed skating and two for cycling. Amazing!

In September I was at the Toronto launch of her new book, Open Heart, Open Mind. The title refers to advice given to her by an elder at a First Nations Brushing Off ceremony at the Squamish First Nations Reserve just before the Vancouver Olympics.

The long-awaited memoir by Canada’s most celebrated Olympian and advocate for mental health.

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 GaƩtan 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 champion.

But after more than a decade in the grueling 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, 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 readers everywhere.

I really enjoyed her openness and honesty, which I find very unusual for an autobiography for an athlete or celebrity. She has an easy to read writing style. I found her trip from wasted teen, to world athlete, to a champion of bringing awareness to depression issues a very interesting journey. To train for world championships, and the biggest event in the world, the Olympics, while battling depression, is inspiring.

I'm really glad I went to the book launch and bought the book. One day I hope to have her autograph it for me.

This book is my fifth in the 9th Canadian Book Challenge.

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