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Clara Hughes: Best of Many Worlds

After an incredible cycling career, which includes 18 National Championship victories, World Championship medals, and an unending list of top international results, Clara Hughes made history last year becoming the first Canadian to win an Olympic medal at both the Winter and Summer Games. Winning a bronze in the 5000m long track speed skating event at the Salt Lake City Olympics made her only the fourth athlete of all time to win both Summer and Winter medals. Now, her life finds another challenge: she is going back to University. Of course this doesn't mean that her racing in either discipline will diminish. Pedal recently caught up with Hughes…

Pedal: Clara, your life is once again changing-you're back in school. As we reported last week, another Canadian cycling star, Andrew Randell, is enjoying a similar change. What are you studying, and how did that come about?

Clara: I am in the fine arts program at the University of Calgary. It's been 12 years since graduating from high school and it was a little intimidating to go back! But I love it – school has provided me with a wonderful balance between my two sports. The reason I went back is the funding I was offered from the Quebec Foundation for Excellence in sport. It's mandate is to prepare athetes for life after sport and in order to receive thier bursaries one has to be pursuing an education while training and racing at a high level. I am sponsored by Bombardier and a very generous individual, Hubert Lacroix, who are making my athletic pursuits possible at this point. Now that I am back in school I would not change it, with or without the funding!

Pedal:. Are you finding it difficult at all, training and studying? What advice would you offer to athletes that are, or wish to, continue their education while training?

Clara: No, for me it is really easy as I train on campus all winter and go from training to class… some days are easier than others but it is all worth it. You learn how to manage your time better, which is a great skill to have as an athlete or in anything else one wishes to pusure. I think the advice I would give would be don't limit yourself thinking it's not possible. There is always time – you just have to manage it. And the rewards are huge, such as the balance gained by not obsessing about it. I used to think I had to go full time to make it worth it but now believe a little is better than nothing, and if I get anything out of the next few years it will be direction – I won't waste a few years after sport figuring out what I want to do.

Pedal: What goals do you have for 2003? How does it feel to have the Road Worlds on your former training roads in Dundas, ON?

Clara: First my goals are in speed skating. I am so motivated for the remainder of the World Cup followed by the World Championships in Berlin in March. I am not skating next year so as to focus 100% on the Summer Olympics in Athens in 2004. I have two goals for this summer: the Pan American Games and the World Time Trial championships. It is a dream to race the cycling Worlds in Canada, let alone in a place I lived for 6 years! Hamilton will always be home to me – I am so motivated to race against the best in the world on my former home turf. I like the climbs up the escarpment and feel they are good for a rider of my skills. It should be fun.

Pedal: How much cycling training do you do during speed-skating season?

Clara: My longest ride might be one or two 2-3 hour rides. Other than that I am usually not on the bike for more than an hour, maybe an hour and a half. On the computrainer in the basement, that is. I do a lot of running in the winter – I find it really boring to ride indoors too much and would rather get my endurance doing one and a half hour runs in the cold.

Pedal: What would you say is the most rewarding aspect you have found, in returning to school?

Clara: It is the challenge of doing something I am not necessarily good at, or trained to do. Learning new skills and trying to perfect them, gaining knowledge which leads to understand of history, of humanity. I love the learning environment and feel much more open after being back in it.

Pedal: Thanks for talking with us Clara.

Clara: Thank you very much!

For more about Clara, see www.Clarahughes.ca

With lots of cold winter training days ahead, Pedal will be posting interviews with some of the “movers and shakers” in the world of cycing. We hope you enjoy them, and please feel free to email us with your questions or comments for anyone that we interview, and we'll post them. Please send them to pedal@passport.ca and cc mattsh@hotmail.com

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