By Yohannes ayalew
Photo: from Bell Canada
We all saw Clara Hughes on every media last week leading the Bell Canada’s let us talk mental health campaign .
Clara Hughes is a Gold medalist and Olympic winner in skating and cycling for Canada .
Not every one knows that Clara Hughes, Canada’s Olympic Hero and a mental health awareness ambassador for Bell Canada traveled to Ethiopia in 2007 . Clara went there as an ambassador for the Canadian charitable organization, “The right to Play”. After watching the documentary by CBC which followed Clara to Ethiopia, I sent my interview questions to her to which she was humble enough to respond quickly.
Please read part of the interview
1. Yohannes: What was the most memorable,touching experience from your trip to Ethiopia.?
Clara: Meeting the people. I would go out running every morning and get to talk with locals. There was one man in particular. He jogged with me and asked if I was a doctor. I tried to explain to him that i was an athlete- skater- but it was impossible to explain . He told me he ran everyday, ‘for my health’, and that most Ethiopians ran. I aksed him how long he ran for each day and he looked at me, confused, and said that he did not know- he just ran and when he felt that it was enough he stopped. I thought this was beautiful and representative of a way that is so opposite from the Western way of having to quantify everything. Also, that he was poor by material standards, he seemed so rich to me because of his love for running.
2 Yohannes : What prompts you to donate 10 thousand dollar to the Right to Play project?
Clara : Because I know how good life is in Canada and I also knew that if I asked Canadians to donate their money to such a great organisation that, for me, epitomizes the true meaning of sport and the potential of sport- they would respond. I wanted to help make the world a better place and give children in other parts of the world the chance to have the freedom to play and grow and have safer lives.
3 Yohannes :How do you see the roles of the right to play project in reducing stigma against people with disability in Ethiopia?
Clara : I think it is a good first step. Ideas like this take so much time to change. To shift the general psyche of a people may never be fully achieved, but I do believe that it can be improved. I saw so many examples of this and feel that change is happening. Like Halle, one of the coaches, who lost his arm to a land mine. He is now so confident and setting the example to young kids who may have dissabilities, too. His life has changed since becoming a RTP coach and I see people like Halle as the ones who will shift the notions of people.
4 .Yohannes :What do you have to say about the people you met at the disability centres in Ethiopia?
Clara : I would say that those kids have more courage and determination than anyone I have ever met. IF they are given a chance, they will and can do anything. They are survivors and I learned so much from their courage.
5. Yohannes: you are famous in canards How much do you know about Ethiopian famous athletes?
Clara: I know Halle Gebrselassie and was there in Atlanta as a cyclist when he won his Olympic gold medal(s). I love running and always remember his big smile when he raced- he ran with joy and this is the same joy I saw in the people in Ethiopia. Halle was on my flight out of Addis but I did not say hello to him. I know how famous he is and thought he doesn’t need another person to talk to. But it was really neat to see him in person.
6. Yohannes :Are you planning to go back to Ethiopia? I do hope so. I dream of that.
Clara: I would like to go back as a volunteer, like the RTP volunteers that I met in Addis. I was so inspired by them.
7.Yohannes :You already achieved a lot in Athletics and in social activism what is the key for your success?
Clara: That I remain humble and find joy in what I do.
8.Yohannes : But… How could you manage to have all those multiple careers, an athlete,
Clara: I believe I have success because I am a balanced person. Every aspect of my life contributes to the other aspects.
Yohannes :Your vision?
Clara: That the world can be a better place through sport. I believe that each child should have the chance to play and be safe, and this is what I wish for humanity.
This interview was done in 2007 with Clara Hughes Olympic gold medalist for Canada. She is now leading the campaign Clara’s Big ride, which is a mental health awareness campaign around Canada .