Open Heart, Open Mind by Clara Hughes

It takes courage to bare your heart and soul.

It takes trust to share your deepest darkest secrets.

It takes wisdom and humility to tell the story right – to put into words all the emotions, realities, experiences and thoughts that one experiences every second, minute and day. Open Heart, Open mind does just that.

What Clara Hughes does in her autobiography, Open Heart, Open Mind is nothing short of a miracle. She has provided the reader a glimpse behind the iron curtain into the world of sport and what it takes to become a champion. Clara has provided insight and perspective, which will not only change the face of sport but it will give voice to mental illness and help numerous athletes and people feel less alone in their struggles; it will inspire them to strive and continue, always putting one step in front of the other.

It is very important for our heroes to tell their own stories. It is so easy for outsiders to create an ideal or a fantasy, which is often far off the mark. This autobiography humanizes athletes and sheds light on some of the struggles even the most “perfect star” athletes go through. This is the first step of many in unveiling the truth behind sport and just what it takes to achieve your dreams and goals.

Sport looks glamorous; it appears exciting, thrilling and rewarding. Unfortunately, looks can be deceiving. Clara’s story unveils some of the dirty truths about sport and the level of dedication invested in it. Her humility and honesty will change the course of many athletes’ careers over time and I am willing to go as far as to state that any young female or male athlete must read this book. 

I know Clara personally, as we did some work together with Right To Play in the past, and I have also had the pleasure of being pushed to the limit on a couple bike rides with her. By having that personal connection, it helped me connect with the book even more; it provided context and validity in the times where it was almost too hard to believe. I found her struggles powerful and courageous – it gave words to emotions I felt while being an athlete. Her grit and tenacity to achieve and overcome pain is unmatched by anyone I know, but her vulnerability around it makes her human.

With all the attention on mental illness in Canada right now, this book has come at the right time. Clara is a trailblazer and her story through sport gives hope to those who struggle and doubt themselves. Her ability to communicate often dark and wordless times helps the reader connect on his or her own individual level.

One of the great lessons in this book is that of the struggle of balance. We all face that struggle, whether or not it is on a bike, at work or at home. We sometimes think that the superstars are immune to those struggles – this is what gives this story power; it is relatable. Clara takes a leap of faith with readers and sports fans alike. She confesses her struggles with sports, commitment and balance. Her candor in the personal topic of drugs in sports, and specifically cycling, gives the story unique depth and challenges the status quo: these are the stories that need to be told.

My only sadness and disappointment while reading this autobiography is that is has the potential to be dark. I hope that people read it inspired by sport and their own challenges and are not turned away: it should lead, empower and educate. This story is riveting but also at times may come across as depressing. I am a believer that education and knowledge provide us tools to make smart choices. It is my hope that this story does just that: provide a strong platform from which to achieve dreams and goals.

Clara is a fighter. Her message is consistent and powerful. From some of the greatest depths of despair came some of her greatest moments – that should give hope to all. 

The most powerful underlying messages in this book is team. It is a lesson for us all. We are better as a team – when people who support, empower and inspire us are our guardians. Clara’s story reflects just that. Although her struggles were often alone, her “team” was always close by. Her confidants and partners were her pillars in times of success and failure, struggles and epiphanies.

This is an important book for people to read. It will take you on a rollercoaster of emotions, but then again, that is why we read. The honesty and bareness to the story will change lives. Even if you are not an athlete, this autobiography transcends all and has the ability to connect to every single one of us.