Clara Hughes laughs sheepishly when she thinks of her first days as a university freshman last fall. “I had to sketch a ladder for my drawing class and I just couldn’t do it,” says the Olympian and fine arts major at the University of Calgary. “I felt paralyzed and lost all confidence in myself. Being a 30year-old surrounded by 19-year-olds can be pretty humbling sometimes.”
Hughes isn’t used to buckling under pressure. Her three Olympic bronze medals—two in cycling from the 1996 Atlanta Games and one in speed skating from Salt Lake City last year—are proof of that. In fact, the Winnipeg native is one of only four athletes in
Olympic history to win medals at both the Winter and Summer Games. Now, in addition to homework assignments and her ongoing efforts to learn French, Hughes is gearing up for what will likely be her Olympic swan song next year in Athens (after the fall semester in Calgary, she moved to Quebec’s Eastern Townships to train).
In the meantime, while her art studies didn’t get off to an explosive start, she is excited by her progress. “It’s amazing to compare my work at the beginning of the year to now,” says Hughes, who recently learned the basics of oil painting. “I did a series of portraits for my husband that I called My
Ode to Peter. It’s corny but was so much fun. School has given me a perspective I’ve been lacking in life.” Hughes is aware that becoming a world famous artist is a long shot, but she has some plans for life after sports. One idea came out of a recent 1,500-km biking adventure in northern Canada with her husband which she says opened her eyes to the plight of Native children. “I’d like to establish an art or sports camp for the kids,” says Hughes. “I won’t try and turn them into Olympic athletes, but it would be great to give back a little of what I had.”
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