When you’re at the height of your workout—muscles trembling and heart racing—it can be hard to find that extra drive to push through. Thinking of the aspirational strength and stamina of an athlete can certainly help. But athletes become even more inspiring when they show us how they’ve overcome physical, mental, and emotional challenges along their journey. The next time you’re struggling through a sweaty hot yoga or HIIT class, channel motivation from these inspiring Canadian athletes.
Winnipeg-born Clara Hughes is a 47-year-old Olympic medal winner in both summer and winter competitions for cycling and speed skating. She was a reckless teen who found her passion by strapping on her skates. But after her first two cycling medal wins in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, she spiraled into a deep depression that lasted several months until she started therapy. Hughes went on to train, compete, and win several more races in cycling and speed skating, including Salt Lake winter 2002 and Torino winter 2006 Olympics. To this day, she continues therapy and shares her story of struggle to help shine a light on the challenges of living with mental health illnesses.
Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue
This power duo is one energized entity. Tessa Virtue, 30, and Scott Moir, 31—both from London, Ontario—are arguably Canada’s most successful and beloved ice dancing team. They’ve worked together since 1998, and have been relentless in their training since they were kids. Their commitment to the sport, to themselves, and to one another is truly awe-inspiring, and their challenging journey to 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic glory is sure to light a fire under any aspiring athlete.
After being diagnosed with bone cancer, Winnipeg-born Terry Fox embarked on a marathon across Canada—the Marathon of Hope—in 1980 to raise funds for cancer. Despite his illness, he covered 5, 373 kilometres in 143 days, pushing the limits of his body in all weather conditions, before stopping outside Thunder Bay as the cancer spread to his lungs. Since then, thousands of Canadians have run in his memory in the annual Terry Fox Run and over $600 million has been raised in his honour.
Nicknamed ‘The Great One,’ this world-famous Olympic medalist has broken any hockey-related record you can think of (likely more than once). The Brantford, Ontario native started skating at the age of two. He struggled in the junior hockey league as he was treated poorly by some of his teammates and faced academic difficulties (in fact, he was never drafted)—his options for pursuing professional teams were slim. He got his big start in 1978 when his early manager landed him a spot on the Indianapolis Racers team. After various policy changes in the NHL, the Edmonton Oilers were allowed to draft Gretzky in 1979—and the rest will go down in Canadian history.
Jamaican-born Donovan Bailey arrived in Oakville, Ontario as a teenager and quickly found his community in other athletes. He first took up basketball, switched to track and field, and ultimately found his calling as a sprinter. He won two gold medals in the 1996 Atlanta summer Olympics, setting a then-record for world’s fastest man. In 2002, he started the Donovan Bailey Fund, which has since enriched the lives of hundreds of amateur athletes from all backgrounds.
Mixed martial artist and former Welterweight Champion is no stranger to facing injury, insult, and financial ruin. Born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Georges St-Pierre took up wrestling at the age of 16 when his Karate teacher died. Before going pro and eventually winning countless competitions, he spent his early 20s as a nightclub bouncer and garbage cleaner to make ends meet. Though now retired, St-Pierre continues to speak on overcoming adversity, fear, and ego to become a legend in his own right.
This Olympic medal winner is often referred to as the greatest Canadian soccer player ever. Hailing from the Sinclair/Gant family of players and coaches, she started playing at the age of four. She has since overcome failure to become a leader in the sport as Canada’s all-time leading scorer. But her legacy burns especially bright for girls across Canada who, thanks to her, feel motivated and driven to pursue their own athletic dreams.
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