Olympian aims to inspire

Clara Hughes speaks with a student

Clara Hughes speaks with a student from the Take a Hike program

Clara Hughes sees a younger self in the at-risk youth enrolled in the Take a Hike program based at John Oliver Secondary school. Growing up in Winnipeg, Hughes was one of those students that didn't care about anything - she was involved in under-age drinking, did drugs and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day.

"I got into a lot of trouble," Hughes said. "It wasn't until I saw the [Calgary] Olympics on TV in 1988 that my life went in a better direction."

These days, Hughes is better known as Canada's most-decorated Olympic athlete, and is the only person to win multiple medals in the Winter and Summer Games (in speed skating and cycling).

The Vancouver Winter Games were the last Olympics for 37-year-old Hughes, and before leaving town, she wanted to leave the city with something that wasn't just the excitement of the Olympics. 

"I wanted to leave something very substantial and material, and I was able to do that with my $10,000 medal bonus that I donated to the [Take a Hike] Foundation," Hughes said.

The Take a Hike program is a unique program made possible by a partnership between the Take a Hike - Youth at Risk Foundation and the Vancouver Board of Education. Hughes' donation will help the foundation continue to fund the trips that are an integral part of the adventure-based learning model.

For some, making the financial donation might have been sufficient, but Hughes also wanted an opportunity to connect with the student in the hopes of inspiring them.

Wednesday, Hughes sat down with the students to talk about her Olympic experience. She also joined the students for a 30-minute skating lesson at Sunset Ice Arena.

During her conversation with students, Hughes was candid about her life before sports; about growing up in a heavily dysfunctional family; and about the path she was on before discovering sports.

 "Sport is something that inspired me to be better and take a better path," Hughes said "I found something that I cared about more than getting in trouble all the time.

"I hope I was able to show them that it's OK to be inspired and keep your senses and your heart open because something might captivate you and change your life.

"Sport is not the [only] answer, but I think goals and dreams and a sense of self worth is the answer. I really believe Take a Hike parallels what sport has done for me. It took me out of a really bad direction and path in life and I think this program is something that works."

Her powerful message struck a chord with many of the students.

Said Isaiah Cartier: "I've seen Clara compete in the Olympics but I never thought I'd have the opportunity to meet her. She is an inspiration to me because I'm also an athlete and she grew up in a not so great environment like a lot of us."


About Adventure-based learning

Adventure-based learning is a critical component of the Take a Hike program. Teaching staff guide at-risk youth through outdoor adventures that require increasingly complex skills.

Adventure-based learning uses physical activities to help youth develop self-directed goals, trust, communication, teamwork and problem-solving skills. It also provides a safe and supportive environment for building self-esteem and self-motivation, and is instrumental to the successful turnaround of students' lives.

The Take a Hike adventure-based learning program includes canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, swimming, cross-country skiing, hiking, snow caving, snowshoeing, and more. Students also complete a Wilderness First-Aid and Lifesaving course. Each year the students participate in three multi-day expeditions, including the following:

  • A four-day hiking/camping trip where the students build and sleep in solo shelters
  • A three-day snowshoe trip where students build and sleep in snow-caves
  • A 10-day excursion such as a Stein Valley camping trip or the Bowren Lakes canoe trip

These adventure-based learning activities focus on real-life situations and experiences which require problem solving, peer dependence, goal setting, leadership, and commitment. The students gain constructive and character-building experiences as they conquer what can appear to be overwhelming personal challenges.


For more information:

Take a Hike Foundation website

VSB's Take a Hike program page

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