By Clara Hughes
Walking to find some lunch in Annecy yesterday it suddenly hit me just how long it had been since I’d been in France. In my past cycling life, France was the Holland that speed skating became to me. I was so sick of a decade racing bikes in France just as I was following a decade on ice in Holland. I count the years as twelve since my last foray into the nation famous for cycling
There I was, walking in France after an overseas flight and a taxi ride from Geneva, wondering how the heck I got here again. Another of many moments like this in the past few years. Clear reminders that I am no longer skating (although ironically a lot of my racing has been in the Netherlands since hitting the bike races again!) but am now a full-fledged bike racer again.
Well, I guess being named to the Olympic team last week made this pretty real as well….
But it’s these moments alone in places far away that bring back so many memories of who I was as a young athlete. It makes me realize how far I’ve come in terms of development when I find myself in these same places again. The athletic part, it’s all the same. Sport is sport. Racing and training do change but ultimately it’s all the same.
What’s changed is me. As I move through this foreign yet familiar land, it’s clear to me I know who I am. As a young athlete, I recall feelings of loneliness in this situation. With my brutal French and strange accent, I get by better than before. I realize when I return to a cafe that a smile goes a long way when the proprietor couple says ‘welcome again….we recognized your smile!‘
Walking through the farmer’s market in old Annecy made me wish for the same at home. Everyone with a smile and a hello, offering samples in hopes of a sale. I drifted towards the elder customers thinking they most likely knew the best vendors to shop from. I came away with a few bags of delicious fruits and vegetables for back at the hotel.
I left Canada a few days ago to seek the final reparation for my back that took a beating back in May with two major crashes. The world of pain I’ve trained and raced through since is finally subsiding to a manageable place. There was only one person in the world I know I knew could rid me of the agony each movement of my right arm and he’s here in Annecy. The relief I feel after a few days of treatment is indescribable.
Next stop, Italy. On Friday the Giro Donne begins and I will start with my Specialized-lululemon squad. I just read that a whopping 10 of us made our countries Olympic teams. Remarkable. I’m sure each girl on the team feels the giddy joy from making this ultimate step as an athlete. What lies before each of us is the opportunity to try to do something other-worldly at the Games in London. Though we are all competitors with our respective National Team jerseys on, I can’t wait to see how we fare as members of our pro team.
The adventure continues and I have to say, I’m enjoying each stage of this crazy trip. Each country, each race and every pedal stroke along the way build the narrative I hope one day to share. It’s been a wild ride and it’s not done yet.