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Olympian Clara Hughes talks in Whistler about power of sport Recalls speed skating “with wings” in front of home crowd at Oval



Clara Hughes calls it "eight kilometres of my life that I will never forget."

It was the time she spent racing on the ice at the Richmond Oval in the 2010 Olympics.

First there was the 3,000 metre speed skating competition, and 10 days later came the 5,000 metre, which capped an athletic career of unbelievable achievements - not the least of which was medaling more than once in both the summer and winter Olympics, the only person in the world ever to do so.

Hughes knew these races would be her last on ice, that she would be retiring after the 2010 Games. She used that knowledge to soak up every last moment, to feel every cheer from the crowd, to hear every bell ringing and every foot stomping.

"I was vividly aware that nothing in life will ever compare to this," recalled a passionate Hughes this week from her home in Quebec.

"As great as other things in my life will be, nothing will ever be like being an athlete. And nothing, as an athlete, will ever, ever be comparable to competing at home in an Olympics."

The moment would have never happened, she says, without mentors in her life to guide her there. That's one of the reasons she's coming to Whistler to speak on Saturday, June 12, a guest of the Whistler Forum for Leadership & Dialogue.

First, she will take part in the informal discussion on coaching, mentoring, sports and leadership hosted by Leadership Sea to Sky and the Intergenerational Mentorship Initiative.

That will be followed by a celebration dinner where Hughes will be the guest speaker.

"My message is: do not ever, ever underestimate the power of mentorship, the power of sharing knowledge and sharing experiences with people who have yet to go into what you're doing... Not just from what you're going to give but from what you're going to get."

Her mentors, she said, have had a powerful impact on her life.

She points to her husband Peter who encouraged a 27-year-old Hughes, who was at the time a double bronze Olympic medalist in cycling, to follow her passion onto the ice and pursue her speed skating dreams.

And then her coach of 10 years, Xiuli (Julie) Wong, helped her find the balance not just in skating but in her approach to life as Hughes trained, the efforts of which yielded a bronze at the Salt Lake Games in 2002, and a gold and silver medal at the Turin Games in 2006.

And then, she says, there was Norwegian speed skater Johann Koss, a four-time gold medallist who is the president and CEO of Right to Play, a charity that uses the power of sport and play to improve the lives of children in some of the world's most war-torn and impoverished countries.

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