Clara Hughes is on the phone from Holland during a break from training. She’s riding around on four wheels— a car—but wishing she was still on her usual two.
The six-time Olympic medallist is making final preparations for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England, beginning July 27.
“I get to ride my bike and that makes me happy,” the Winnipeg native says of her switch back to competitive cycling from long-track speed skating. “I just want to have the race of my life. That would be as good as it gets.”
Hughes, who suffered from depression as a teen, is now using her fame to help a generation of Canadians; she’s a spokesperson for the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, which promotes awareness of mental illness. She’s also a longtime supporter of Right to Play, which strives to help underprivileged children through sports. Hughes handed over her $10,000 speed skating gold medal bonus at the 2006 Winter Olympics to Right to Play; she did the same with her bronze prize money in 2010, that time to a youth-at-risk program in the host city of Vancouver.
Hughes, who will turn 40 on Sept. 27, isn’t back on the track because she needs another medal or more glory. She races because she feels the need to push herself to be her best. We pushed her to answer a few travel-related questions.
Glen Sutton, Que./ Salt Lake City, Utah
Days spent on the road
Since 2005 or so I’ve not been in one place for more than three weeks. A week in one locale is a long stay for me. I don’t count travel days, but you get the picture.
How do you pack your luggage?
Not very well. I start out fairly organized and then add things in after I have more than I need. I don’t like looking like a jock so I bring shoes and boots that make me feel “normal” when travelling the world as an athlete. Way too much stuff!
Before boarding. . .
I hate being that person who is always getting things from the overhead bin. So, I take the magazines, books and computer, and stuff it all into my massive purse for the flight.
There is a sushi restaurant [Wicker Park Seafood & Sushi Bar] in the Chicago airport I stop at all the time. I go through Chicago a lot, travelling to Montreal or Toronto from Salt Lake City.
Hmmmm. As an athlete, I am often staying in some dives. I’d have to say the Van Der Valk hotel in Holland where we stayed during [speed skating] races, near Heerenveen, always made me happy. Big rooms, awesome food, nice staff. Typical Dutch! That hotel was always something to look forward to when coming from sketchy hotels in Russia or low-budget hotels in Germany.
Favourite travel destination
[Husband] Peter Guzman and I bike-toured the Dempster Highway, all the way up to Inuvik [NWT] for our honeymoon, and then rode back down to Whitehorse in the Yukon. We paddled the East Arm of Great Slave Lake in the summer of 2010 for a few months. I love the North and cannot wait to go back up there.
(Cycling) Atlanta – bronze Atlanta – bronze
(Speed skating) Salt Lake City – bronze
(Speed skating) Turin, Italy – gold Turin, Italy – silver
(Speed skating) Vancouver – bronze