by Dr. Nadia Daly – PGY-3
This year’s All-Delegate Keynote Plenary Lunch featured Clara Hughes, six-time Canadian Olympic medalist and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both summer and winter Olympic Games. She is figured as a national spokesperson for Bell’s “Let’s Talk” Campaign, which aims to end the stigma surrounding mental health. She is also author of the bestselling memoir “Open Heart, Open Mind”.
In a filled hall at the Westin Hotel, Clara Hughes delivered a most captivating and passionate speech. She had us hooked on her every word. She was expressive and candid. The intensity of her enthusiasm was that of an Olympic athlete. Her struggles were palpable as she described her experience of having a parent suffering from mental illness, the broken home that ensued, and the little girl’s shattered hopes. She took us through her troublesome adolescence, which she recounted with a quirky sense of humour that had us all laughing. She spoke about her sister who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and who she visited multiple times in hospital. When she got to the part about her athletic career, she took us on a roller-coaster: her discovery of speed-skating and cycling, her determination and intensity in training, and her numerous victories that were instantly followed by feelings of painful emptiness. She talked about her lowest points as well as the people and coaches that helped her through them. She talked about how sports helped her but also hurt her, how it was her salvation but also her drug. And she described her struggles with depression, her first contact with psychiatry, her denial and eventually her acceptance. By the end, she had painted us a beautiful portrait of a successful athletic career deeply intertwined with mental illness. Clara Hughes expressed her deepest gratitude to the mental health profession, leaving us with words of encouragement to never stop what we do. Thank you, Clara Hughes, for your inspiring speech and for your work as a mental health advocate. We need people like you!