By Clara Hughes
‘What’s the reason of your stay’ was the first question asked at customs a few nights ago. I’d just made the trip from Leipzig, Germany. After completing the first three days of the Thuringen Ruhndfahrt stage race, I was ready to make my final trip. The trip to London. To the Olympics. Even on this, my sixth trip to the Games for Canada, I felt an excitement that was difficult to contain.
The next question burst my happy bubble, however, after answering ‘I’m here for the Olympics!’ The guy in the little booth said ‘oh, do you have tickets or something?
‘No, I’m in the Olympics…’ Which continued into a query as to if I was a coach, an official, ‘a volunteer?’….I must not look like an athlete or something because it was a long list of possibilities this customs agent went through before believing I was there to compete
‘Have you been before?‘. It seems hard to believe this is number six. Hard to believe it’s possible to be here again and have this chance to live the dream of mine that still has meaning.
I had a reminder of how special the opportunity is back in Thuringen at the race hotel a few days earlier. One of the girls I race against who, heartbreakingly so, did not make her Olympic team, took a moment to chat. She is British and close to my vintage in life. Likely this was her last chance to represent her country. She didn’t make it.
My friend shared with me the towns in and around the race course for the road race on the 29th where she’d worked and lived. She shared these things to me and then apologized when she shared how she really wanted to race. ‘I’m sorry, I’m just so gutted by the whole situation’
She was happy for me but sad for herself and that’s okay. It made me count again in my head just how many times I’ve competed and realize this is number six. A sixth Olympics. I felt greedy when talking to my friend in sport who will never know the thrill of competing and the awe of the Games. In any Games, let alone the one in her own country that starts within the week.
When I realize this and look at all that has gone into preparing for this chance to achieve excellence, I think about the pressure and the stress. I realize it’s ridiculous to think about results. Why would I do this when the stress of wanting to perform and the lusty desire for success is nothing but an element pulling an athlete away from the beauty of the gift. The gift of just simply being here, now.
So when the man at the customs asked me if I’d been before, I answered ‘yes, actually, I have, five times’
“Well, have you won anything?
All I said was ‘I’ve done okay. I’m just happy to be here, now, for that races I have. That is, if you let me into your country!’
And after about fifteen minutes of confusion as to what my status was as an athlete, the stamp of a rather cheap and faulty stamper into my passport, he wished me luck this time around.
So here I am, in London, and I have to say it’s an experience unlike any other. That I am here, now, seems like magic. In some ways it seems like a dream. But when I step onto my bike and turn the pedals, I feel 100% ready and like a complete bike racer.
I am ready for the Games to begin and the magic to unfold.