Medal keeps giving

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

CALGARY -- If she could, Clara Hughes would probably allow every single person in Canada to touch her Olympic gold medal.

You'll have to get in line, though. And don't expect to elbow your way to the front.

That spot is taken by her grandmother in Winnipeg, a feisty lady named Dodie Lester, who helped give Hughes her red hair and her competitive fire.

"I can't wait to show her these medals," Hughes, finally back on Canadian soil, told the Sun here yesterday. "She's almost blind. She has just 5% vision. I can just see her holding the medals and feeling them, the texture of them, the weight of them. I can't wait to see her with them in her hand."

The Winnipeg-born Hughes won gold and silver at the Turin Winter Games, making history in the process: she's the first athlete in the world with multiple medals from both Summer and Winter Olympics.

But it's her last one, a gold in the 5,000 metres, Feb. 25, that seems to be taking on a life of its own. This is the medal that keeps on giving.

Immediately after winning it, Hughes announced she was donating $10,000 of her own money to a children's charity called Right to Play.

At the same time, she challenged Canadians to donate what they could to the organization, which helps kids in Third World countries get involved in sports.

Less than three weeks later, pledges have reached some $240,000.

"When I got on-line (righttoplay.com), I just couldn't believe it," said Hughes, who'd been on vacation with her husband in Arizona. "It's a pretty special time in my life."

She was blown away all over again when she began opening her mail and found a letter from Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, pledging $50,000 to the cause.

"It made me so happy to see the leadership Manitoba is showing," Hughes said. "It's fantastic. It's a leadership role in what the other provinces can do (yes, there's a challenge in there)."

'AMAZING'

If being an Olympic champion hadn't sunk in before, it sure has now.

"It's amazing," Hughes said. "But at the same time, I'm more proud of what I've done with this medal. That is the most important thing for me. This medal is for me to share with people, to share with everyone that wants to see it or wear it or just have a part of it, having seen the race."

Like the two little girls who sent her an envelope from Nepean, Ont., containing pictures they drew of Hughes, complete with orange pig-tails, and a note from their mom saying they emptied their piggy-bank for kids they've never met.

Like the little girl Hughes knows in Hamilton, Ont., a girl also named Clara (her parents named her after Hughes). When Hughes collapsed in pain after her race, little Clara was petting her TV screen, hoping her Olympic hero was all right.

Like Hughes' kindergarten teacher back at Lord Selkirk School, who sends Hughes a letter after every Olympics.

"She sent me a really nice card," Hughes said. "It was just really, really special. I always remember where I came from. I never forget my roots."

Like her old high school principal, who keeps in touch via e-mail, and all the students at Elmwood High, where they've named an award after their famous grad.

Hughes' message to them, and everybody in her old stomping grounds: "You know what? You can do anything. If you have the determination, the drive and the tenacity you can really do anything. That's what this medal represents for me, as well."

All this, for a medal that's not even three weeks old.

"What I have is the memory of what I did with that medal," Hughes said. "That will be with me the rest of my life."

Like we said, it just keeps on giving.


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