A whirlwind of a week - Athlete journal by Clara Hughes

The week of June 12-17, the members of the National Long track and Short Track Speed Skating Teams, athletes and staff, were brought together for a week of meetings, team building, meetings, training, meetings, motivational talks, meetings…you get the picture. It was a busy week with hardly a moment to oneself and though I suspect, or hope, that other athletes left the camp completely exhausted from the non-stop schedule, it was a deeply motivating experience that left even me, one the veterans of sport, focused and deeply moved.

It was obvious how much hard work went into organizing the camp when we received the schedule for the week. Activities like white water rafting, canoeing, go carting, an Olympic version of the Amazing Race and team dinners every night were just the physical activities we were to endure. Team-building sessions and an evening of ‘Red Faces’ where each designated team had to prepare a skit with an ‘Olympic theme’ and present it to the group filled in the gaps of time left after each training group spent the mornings doing specific workouts set by respective coaches. My group was training pretty hard and we were wasted for the other sessions, especially by the end of the week.

The highlight of the week had to be the motivational speech given by 3-time Olympic Champion Marnie McBean, one of Canada’s most celebrated Olympians, and someone I know from the two Summer Olympics I competed in as a cyclist. It was quite an opportunity to sit and chat with Marnie over dinner and then to listen to her share her experiences as an athlete. Watching her gold-medal race from the 1996 Atlanta Games was awe-inspiring and to listen to her perspective on the process that brought her there was, for some of the athletes, a life-changing experience.

I found myself thinking over the past week about Marnie’s talk, about so many things that I heard and witnessed at the camp, about the athletes I met and became friends with over the week, the environment that I train in and even my team that I had not seen for almost three months since leaving Calgary in March. I felt so inspired by the environment alone; the opportunity to be within this fantastic group of people, athletes and staff alike, and realizing that I had a role within it, too. I came to see our group as this massive puzzle, each personality making a different piece that has the potential to create a beautiful, unique picture if put together properly.

I suppose this camp was the first step in figuring out which piece goes where and which athlete fits into what role. In the end, I think people began to see the potential of such a meshing of the two sports- people began to see how much there was to learn from one another and how inspiration and support are things to be shared. Our sports are so different yet I began to see them as similar in so many ways. Athletes are athletes; we are all super competitive and want to succeed. Only the mode in which we do it (long track or short) remains different.

More than anything, this camp and the immersion into the massive group of people made me realize the most important thing is to realize who I am as an individual. It made me think of what works best for me and what simply does not click. This valuable realization has brought me closer to myself, to who I am as an athlete and a person, and allowed for the stimulation in my thoughts to begin planning for this very important year.

Being around so many people made me very aware that I can only be who I am, always striving to improve and learning from others, but fundamentally, this is me. If I try to be somebody I’m not, not only will I not have the satisfaction of success, I will not be happy. Yet, at the same time, my role within the group is an important one, just like everyone else’s.

I remember four years ago when I went to the Salt Lake City Olympics. I knew only a few of the Short Track speed skaters. I remember wishing I knew them so that I talk to them and make the connection that would make watching their races even more powerful than they already were. That we have been given to the chance to meet each other in some pretty fun situations (white water rafting) and meld more as a team, gives us the chance to be even more inspired and connected to one another’s races eight months from now at the Olympics in Torino.

With such a powerful, confident and completely focused group, I feel just about ready to take on the world. Well, maybe I need a little more time…about eight months or so.