WHAT IT'S ALL WORTH - Athlete Journal by Clara Hughes, national team skater

Sunday night, while riding the rollers in the house, as torrential rain and thunder broke loose on my mountain home, I listened to CBC radio and the Olympic version of ‘Cross-Canada Check-Up.’ The theme of the day was ‘do medals count- what is the worth of the Olympics to Canadians?’

I completed my second training session of the day listening to the opinions of a wide variety of Canadians. Some involved and passionate about sport, some gracious spectators, and others not in the least interested in something like the Olympics, wondering why money would be wasted to ‘pay for these athletes to travel around the world on tax-payer dollars.’ It was both inspiring and disheartening to hear the response of the general public. Part of me wanted to call in and share my own experiences.

Instead, I listened.

It made me wonder if there is a value on what we do as athletes: for our country, for humanity, for the world. It all became clear this morning when I read a letter from a young girl who has been a pen pal of mine for eight or ten years now. She is in grade nine, from Boise, Idaho, and her name is Quinn Woody.

I met Quinn one of the first years I raced the international stage race the ‘Potato State’ used to hold each summer. We became friends after I gave her one of the medals I won, promising to write to each other. Quinn’s Mom did a great job of keeping us in touch, and each year they would be somewhere along the way of the 12-14 day race that traveled through their home state.

When I began to speed skate in 2000, we continued to communicate. She even came, with her entire family, to watch me race in the Continental Speed Skating Championships in Salt Lake City in 2003.

I have had the fortune to watch this little girl grow and develop into a wonderful young lady. She’s the kind of kid that gives one hope for the world- Quinn is full of life, hope, intelligence and inspiration.

I want to share a few paragraphs from this letter that reminded me of what this path I travel on as an Olympian is all about; the worth of sport to the youth of the world:

Hey Clara,

I have read everything you have sent me, and you are such a good inspiration for me. My soccer team was just recently in a really big championship. It decided who went to regionals and who was done for the season. We were playing against our archrivals, Les Bois, they beat us every year in this championship. I wanted this game so bad. I played that game with all of my heart and for that I am proud, but my whole team just went through the motions. We ended up losing. My coach had said that he could handle a loss if everybody put all they could into it and played with their hearts, but he would not accept the fact that we lost without doing that. I think in the long run after you separate the skilled from the unskilled, then the battle becomes between the ones who want it more and the ones who just go through the motions and don’t play with their hearts. I realize that you can’t always win, but you can make your best effort to always play with your heart.

I keep thinking that I won’t make it in soccer. It is very unlikely that I will become a pro. As you say, “Dream big, the bigger the better.” I am planning on doing that. Even if I don’t make it as a professional I will know that I gave it my all and that is all I can do. During a game when I am tired and wanting to give up, I always think of the long races you do either bike racing or speed skating, and I keep on going. I don’t think you realize how much you have helped me and inspire me. THANK YOU!!!

There are times when even an Olympic athlete needs some inspiration, and this, for me, is a letter that will travel in my suitcase to remind me on the days when I feel low and uninspired. Because I know my actions, win or lose, have any kind of positive effect on a young person like Quinn, I can continue on this path with a huge push forward, knowing there is worth in each step that moves me closer to that special opportunity that happens every four years: The Olympics.