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Let’s talk Day

Olympic Speed Skating Champion Reveals 2 Year Battle with Depression

posted 10:31 AM EST, Mon March 14, 2011

Canadian Clara Hughes opened up this week to talk about the depression that lurked behind her record breaking Olympic career.

Clara Hughes is a Canadian Olympian who’s as famous for her blazing smile and good works as she is for a Canadian record 6 Olympic medals, competing in both the Summer Olympics as a cyclist and in the winter games as a long track speed skater. However, behind the smiles and the amazing success lurked a serious depression that took her two years of counseling to overcome.

At 38, Hughes is just now ready to talk about her turbulent years – agreeing to front Bell Canada’s “Let’s talk Day”; which is a campaign aiming to educate the greater public on the realities of mental illness in the hopes of reducing the stigma attached to such diseases.

As Hughes tells it, her bout with depression began in 1996 after the Atlanta games, when she came home with two bronze medals. What initially she believed was a post-Olympic letdown, that left her feeling blue, turned into weeks and months of sleeping too many hours and waking up to fits of crying. During that time, she gained 15-20 pounds.

Describing her despair during those days, she explains, "I'd be in airports by myself, going to a training camp and just bawling my eyes out. I knew there was something wrong with me, but the mistake I made was thinking I could fix myself, that I just had to be stronger and I had to get over it…I struggled so much because I felt really about myself because I couldn't make those changes."

A doctor for the Canadian cycling team eventually diagnosed depression.

Although Hughes didn’t use medication to treat her depression, she did undergo 2 years of counseling and changed her diet significantly, eliminating white sugars and increasing her intake of veggies and fresh fruits.

Hughes says that as a young athlete, pressure from coaches as well as an internal drive to succeed resulted in years of overtraining that she blames, in part, for her decent into depression – something that’s she’s determined to avoid in the future, saying, "It's something I really have to be careful with to this day, that I don't push myself too hard because I never want to fall into that dark hole again."

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