Clara keeps giving

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

Meyer Cosman's 77-year-old hands reached for the notepad and pencil he keeps beside his hospital bed.

Cosman can't speak anymore -- the throat cancer he's been fighting for some 20 years is finally winning out. And he certainly can't speed skate the way he did even seven years ago, when he won the last of three Canadian Masters championships.

But Cosman can still write. And there's no doubt he can still feel.

At this moment, he's writing down how he felt when he got a visit from Olympic champion Clara Hughes and her gold medal on Monday.

"It was the highlight of my life," Cosman scrawled.

That's saying something.

Cosman is a Winnipegger who made good, founder of a wildly successful furniture store.

From the time he was 10 years old, he was also a speed skater. It wasn't until after he'd made his millions, though, that he first met Hughes.

The two trained together at the old Sargent Park Oval, back when Cosman, then 60, was getting back into the sport. Hughes was just 17.

"He was one of the veteran skaters who made it so much fun for me," Hughes said.

When Hughes switched to cycling and moved to London, Ont., Cosman's support continued, long-distance.

"I sent her $25 a month," he scribbled on that notepad. "To make sure she had one good meal a month."

Hughes would go on to win two Olympic medals in cycling, before her love for skating brought her back to the ice.

Four years ago, Hughes became the first Canadian to win Olympic medals in both the Summer and Winter Games.

This past February, she even topped that, winning Olympic gold in the 5,000 metres in Turin, Italy.

Watching that memorable race on TV here in Winnipeg, her old friend couldn't make a sound, but that doesn't mean he wasn't cheering his head off.

Ask Cosman about that moment, and he makes a motion as if his heart was pounding right out of his chest.

Two days ago, Hughes returned to her hometown for the first time since Turin, and one of the first people she looked up was Cosman.

They hadn't seen each other in a few years. And he'd been admitted to hospital just a few days earlier, his last stop before he bows out, for good.

So, naturally, they bawled their eyes out.

"Meyer held my medal and he kissed my medal," Hughes said. "And I told him, 'Now it's worth something.' He is an unsung hero, in my eyes."

Funny, because for Cosman, Hughes is the hero. Someone who gave her all to reach the top, but hasn't forgotten what's important along the way.

Someone whose gold medal isn't so much changing her life, but the lives of all the kids who touch it. Someone who's using her profile to help underprivileged kids around the world, through the charity, Right to Play.

Asked what makes Hughes special, Cosman goes straight for his pencil.

"A perfect person," he wrote. "And all heart."

Cosman isn't much longer for this world. He says doctors have given him until July.

He had time, though, to give one more thing back to the sport he loved.

Years ago, Cosman had an artist in Quebec City create a magnificent bronze figure of a speed skater, mounted on a marble base.

Two weeks ago, the Meyer Cosman Trophy for outstanding performance in Manitoba speed skating was presented for the first time. Cosman himself gave the award to Winnipeg's Cindy Klassen in a tear-filled, private ceremony at the MTS Centre.

"My time is limited. I want other people to enjoy it," Cosman said of the piece. "There's no trophy like it, believe me."

It's fitting, really. All those years, Hughes was inspired by Cosman. Now the guy is taking a page from her book.

While Hughes motivates kids around the world with her gold medal, Cosman will continue to do his part every time a Manitoba athlete wins the Meyer Cosman Trophy, and finds their name alongside Cindy Klassen's.

"That will last forever," Hughes said. "We'll always remember Meyer."


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