Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review: Open Heart, Open Mind


Like most Canadians, I know who Clara Hughes is. I know she's an Olympian who has won medals in both the Summer (for cycling) and Winter (for speed skating) Games. I know she's an advocate for mental health, particularly for Bell Let's Talk. But I didn't know how she got to those places. Because of that, I was really looking forward to reading her memoir, Open Heart, Open Mind.

Here's the synopsis:
The long-awaited memoir by Canada’s most celebrated Olympian and advocate for mental health.
In 2006, when Clara Hughes stepped onto the Olympic podium in Torino, Italy, she became the first and only athlete ever to win multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Games. Four years later, she was proud to carry the Canadian flag at the head of the Canadian team as they participated in the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. But there’s another story behind her celebrated career as an athlete, behind her signature billboard smile.
While most professional athletes devote their entire lives to training, Clara spent her teenage years using drugs and drinking to escape the stifling home life her alcoholic father had created in Elmwood, Winnipeg. She was headed nowhere fast when, at sixteen, she watched transfixed in her living room as gold medal speed skater GaƩtan Boucher effortlessly raced in the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Dreaming of one day competing herself, Clara channeled her anger, frustration, and raw ambition into the endurance sports of speed skating and cycling. By 2010, she had become a six-time Olympic champion.
But after more than a decade in the grueling world of professional sports that stripped away her confidence and bruised her body, Clara began to realize that her physical extremes, her emotional setbacks, and her partying habits were masking a severe depression. After winning bronze in the last speed skating race of her career, she decided to retire, determined to repair herself. She has emerged as one of our most committed humanitarians, advocating for a variety of social causes both in Canada and around the world. In 2010, she became national spokesperson for Bell Canada’s Let’s Talk campaign in support of mental health awareness, using her Olympic standing to share the positive message of the power of forgiveness.
Told with honesty and passion, Open Heart, Open Mind is Clara’s personal journey through physical and mental pain to a life where love and understanding can thrive. This revelatory and inspiring story will touch the hearts of readers everywhere.
This is an extremely powerful memoir. I messaged a friend after I was only a chapter or so in telling her I already had goosebumps. Clara has an amazing story and I'm so glad she chose to write it all down and share it with us. It's written well and packs an emotional punch. She doesn't seem to hold anything back and that honest, authentic voice is one of the things that makes this memoir stand out. 

I liked how the book was set up. It starts with celebrating in Vancouver at the 2010 Winter Games. That was a big deal for Canada and for Clara, who was chosen to be the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies. I like that it started with this because those Games are imprinted in many Canadians' memories. No matter that there have been two Games since then, most people can tell you exactly where they were when they watched Sidney Crosby score the "golden goal" (I was at my boyfriend's house at university watching with him and his roommates. We spilled out into the streets like everyone else after the game was over.) I will admit that I can't remember watching Clara win bronze in 2010, though I'm sure I watched it, or at least the replays. The point is, writing about something so familiar and important to Canadians was a great way to start the memoir. I appreciated that and that the book then went backwards and then began talking about Clara's childhood.

This is a memoir that's going to make you take a look at your life. Maybe you want to do an in depth examination of how you're really doing. Maybe you recognize some of Clara's struggles as ones you're dealing with as well. Maybe you'll take a closer look at your friends and ask them if they're ok. Maybe you are in total awe of the insane work that's required to be an athlete. Maybe you're going to pay more attention to the athletes who don't get all of the attention at the next Olympic Games, not just the high profile individuals or teams. There's just so much to take away from this Clara's story.

I want everyone to read Open Heart, Open Mind. My copy will be going immediately to my mom (who was actually fortunate enough to meet Clara when she was the keynote speaker at my mom's work's fundraiser) and as soon as I finished the book I texted a friend that she had to read it (no surprise, it was already on her TBR list). So, consider this my book pusher message to everyone: read Open Heart, Open Mind. It doesn't matter if you're not into sports or even if you're not Canadian. Clara Hughes has written an amazing memoir that will, hopefully, encourage the conversation about mental health even further.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada, I'm able to share with you lovely readers some books that have shaped Clara's life and career. Enjoy!
The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. This book helped me begin to understand the unusual and lonely path I was on as an athlete. Helped me accept the pursuit of human excellence and realize that not everyone was going to understand the things I learned along the way. That this was okay.
The Power of Myth, interviews with Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyer. An easier read than Campbell's more textbook reads on mythology. 'Follow your bliss', 'You cannot cure the world of sorrow but you can choose to live in joy' are a few of the many quotes that profoundly effected and directed my life in and out of sport. It's inspiring to read the passion Campbell has and how he breaks down the barriers between cultures and faiths, bringing all humans together.
Artist of Life by Bruce Lee. This is a compilation of his essays written in the years he was a philosophy student. Bruce Lee was so much more than a brilliant martial artist. He was a deep and rich individual learning and growing, always seeking a clearer way to pursue life and art. I read this book during a few of the Olympics I competed in and his reflections prompted a clearer idea of movement that led to my best races.
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. Zorba is larger than life and lives in the biggest way imaginable. This book made me and makes me want to live in a bigger way. It is tragic and joyous all at once and a beautiful display of the human condition. I read this book as a young athlete traveling the globe and it made me realize how small I could allow my life to be if I moved through the experiences I had with blinders on.
Any book by Thich Nhat Hahn. We have over 20 of his books. His reflections and ideas on mindfulness continue to shape who I am and who I evolve to be in life. He is a wonderful human being and his writings are always welcomed into our home.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Reading this book when I was younger made me feel less alone. I came from a dysfunctional family and was pretty confused. The protagonist was much of what I felt when I was young. I did a lot of stupid things because of this confusion. The book really resonated with me.

Siddartha by Herman Hesse. I have read and re-read this story so many times. It's about life and what you can live for. It's about gurus and teachers, about the lessons that are inside every one of us. It is an inspiring read that never fails to bring me back on the path I am meant to walk on. I just read this again during the latter part of my Appalachian Trail hike in 2015.

*A copy of this book was provided by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for review consideration. All opinions are honest and my own.*

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