The waves of success

Text courtesy Clara Hughes.

The bus travels at an annoyingly slow pace to our Dutch destination, Heerenveen. Over three hours ago we left Erfurt, Germany, the sight of World Cup #2 in the 2003/04 speed skating season. As we creep through the landscape littered with leftover autumn hues, the beauty of the rolling hills makes me wish I was on my bike. Certain places call out to two-wheeled creatures like me, as if the terrain is longs for the effortless flow of the bicycle. But I am a speed skater, not a cyclist anymore. The result from 13 years of bike racing is an urge to pedal that is spurred on with such inviting terrain. It is inherent in me.

Monday is always a travel day for the team in while Europe. The taxing hours spent on trains, planes and automobiles serve also as the only precious day of rest. The stale, re-circulated air does not allow for good recovery; we are often left feeling more drained than after the previous day of racing.

When everything goes well the time flies while abroad. I think back to last year when the women’s team traveled the wave of success each competition built on. We motivated each other by bettering our performances each time the gun fire echoed off the domed ceilings we skated under. This season has been far from this ideal that we created, and it is only through our strength as a unit that we keep perspective.

Every season it different: individuals who shined in the past have periods of drought, while others bounce back from perhaps a disappointing prior year. We came into these World Cups tired after a difficult autumn of training. We hope it will pay off later in the year. It is frustrating to come to Europe feeling strong but not sharp.

There are two ways to deal with the situation: one is to accept the results, the disappointment, and pretend it is okay and that we ‘did our best’; the other is to go into every race with that same motivation we had last year: to be better than the last race and fight for every stride along the way. We have no choice but to fight. Seeing people faster than us right now motivates us to go back home and train harder, to train with intelligence. It is easy when there is an abundance of success to become complacent. Disappointment is merely a reminder of the attitude it takes to win. We are not satisfied with our performances, and the hunger to be better grows in each of us as the days pass by.

I was fortunate enough to work with a very wise man for five years, my cycling coach Eric Van Den Eynde. We passed through many difficult times together (and believe me there were many) he always said one thing: ‘Clara, if you’ve been good once, you will be good again.’ He is so right. When the struggle is most intense it’s easy to become negative, to think ‘how did I ever perform at that level?’ This is when one must be strong and look forward to find the desire and will to win. We have found this again, now we just need time to strengthen and hone this invaluable element to success.

Another wise man, this time my husband Peter, sent me a quote via e-mail that seems appropriate. He has been reading The Taoist Classics (ed. Thomas Cleary) by Lao Tsu, the wisest of ‘wise men’. It is regarding the meaning of rest, a concept I often struggle with, and reads ‘Those who want strength must preserve it with weakness’. With our motivation to train and become stronger, we must respect this, the practice of rest.

As the last World Cup of autumn approaches and we leave the remaining hints of autumn behind in Germany, not even the rain that saturates this coastal land can dampen our spirits. We have re-discovered the hunger necessary to compete; to win. We rode the wave of success last year, putting all of our energy into winning, and now we will channel that same energy into the battle we wage in fighting our way back to the top, where we belong, with the best skaters in the world.

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