Clara Hughes: The Story Behind the Spotlight

Like most other Canadians, I recognize Clara Hughes on TV because of her huge, tremendously vibrant smile, and she has always struck me as a sunny, positive, confident person, not to mention a world-class athlete.

Reading her memoir called Open Heart, Open Mind showed me that being sunny, positive, & confident doesn’t always come easy to Clara. There’s a world of struggle behind that smile. Hearing Clara speak in front of a sold-out audience in Lloydminster last week was even more affecting.

Clara speaks with so much passion & energy. She sounds like a spoken-word poet, delivering line after line of sincere, honest, evidence, attesting to her personal struggles with mental illness. She insists that while one in five Canadians suffer from mental illness in their lifetime, it is the five in five that really matter. We are all in this together. We all need community, & we all need to be willing admit it when we aren’t doing okay.

I was so moved by Clara’s passion and message, that I found myself openly weeping several times throughout her story. Most of all, I was moved by Clara’s incredible willingness to not just meet everyone who wanted her autograph, but to really connect with people and have a personal conversation with everyone she met. She laid out her huge collection of medals from both winter & summer olympics, and encouraged people to feel them, hold them, & even wear them in pictures with her. The ribbons of the medals were tattered, but so beautiful. If there’s anything I took away from meeting Clara, it’s that we are all a little tattered, but still so beautiful.

If you have the opportunity to see Clara speak, take advantage.

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2016’s 50 Book Pledge

Looking back at the list of books I read in 2016 is an interesting exercise in reflection & recollection. For example, when I see book no. 34, My Wish List, it takes me back to my honeymoon. I bought My Wish List in a small bookstore in Quebec City, with an itty-bitty english-language section and read it on the train trip back to Montreal. But the most important book I read was no. 26, The Happiness of Pursuit, because it made me realize that the #50bookpledge is more than a goal to encourage myself to read; it’s a quest for continual learning & personal growth. Inspired by the benefits of pursuit outlined in the book, I decided to turn my yearly reading goal into a life-long quest to complete the 50 book pledge for 50 straight years.
So, without further ado: my #50bookpledge list for 2016 (2 years down, only 48 more to go!)

  1. Open Heart, Open Mind By Clara Hughes
  2. They Left Us Everything By Plum Johnson
  3. The Garden of Letters By Alyson Richman
  4. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber By Julian Rubinstein
  5. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules By Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
  6. Remembering Forever: A Journey of Darkness & Light By Eva Olsson with Ron Jacques
  7. Sugar Falls By David Alexander Robertson
  8. The Steady Running of the Hour By Justin Go
  9. Ellen Foster By Kaye Gibbons
  10. All My Puny Sorrows By Miriam Toews
  11. Code Talker By Chester Nez
  12. A Rose for Her Grave By Ann Rule
  13. Fatty Legs By Christy Jordan-Fenton
  14. Pinnochio By Carlo Collodi
  15. Introducing Shakespeare By Nick Groom & Pie
  16. The Birds By Daphne Du Maurier
  17. In Cold Blood By Truman Capote
  18. Horse Sense By Tillen Bruce
  19. The Way of the Runner By Adharanand Finn
  20. The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life & Time’s of America’s Banana King By Rich Cohen
  21. If I Should Die Before I Wake By Han Nolan
  22. Precious By Sapphire
  23. God Thinks You’re Wonderful By Max Lucado
  24. Running with the Kenyans By Adharanand Finn
  25. Bay of Secrets By Rosanna Ley
  26. The Happiness of Pursuit By Chris Guillebeau
  27. Adore By Doris Lessing
  28. My Year of Running Dangerously By Tom Foreman
  29. Little Bee By Chris Cleave
  30. Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy & Hard Times By Jennifer Worth
  31. Kingdom of the Golden Dragon By Isabel Allende
  32. Call the Midwife: Shadow’s of the Workhouse By Jennifer Worth
  33. The Mermaids Singing By Lisa Carey
  34. My Wish List By Gregoire Delacourt
  35. Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End By Jennifer Worth
  36. The Undertaker’s Daughter By Kate Mayfield
  37. True Crime Addict By James Renner
  38. What Doctors Feel By Danielle Ofri, M.D.
  39.  The Midwife’s Sister By Christine Lee
  40. The Wave By Todd Strasser
  41. Animal Farm By George Orwell
  42. Maximum Insecurity By William Wright, M.D.
  43. Running Like a Girl By Alexandra Heminsley
  44. Stuart Little By E.B. White
  45. Maybe this Christmas By Sarah Morgan
  46. Stiff By Mary Roach
  47. Fun Home By Alison Bechdel
  48. Julius Caesar: A Shakespeare Story By Andrew Matthews & Tony Ross
  49. The Tempest: A Shakespeare Story By Andrew Matthews & Tony Ross
  50. Modern Romance By Aziz Ansari


Interested in joining me for 2017’s pledge? Visit & get reading!

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Running Reads: The Best of Adharanand Finn

If you know me at all, you know I drive A LOT. Last summer I moved 700 kilometres away from where I grew up, & I make it a priority to visit friends & family at home regularly.

If you know me at all, you also know that when I’m training for a half marathon, I run A LOT. Usually I hit the gym after work at least 4 days a week to stick to my training schedule.

Cue my discovery of audiobooks (I also listen to a ton of podcasts, but those are a subject in themselves!). I’ve had a subscription to audible for a while now, where I pay a flat fee & get any audiobook of my choosing each month. They do wonders to help fill the long hours of driving & really help me to control my mind when I’m running; if my mind is busy & entertained, it’s not so worried about trying to convince my body that it should stop.


Recently, I stumbled onto a title by Adharanand Finn called The Way of the the Runner: A Journey into the Obsessive World of Japanese Running, which I voraciously devoured. In the book, Finn chronicles his families six-month adventure in Japan, where he goes to seek the secrets of Japanese long-distance running, especially the secrets of the extremely popular sport of ekiden (long-distance relay) running. What makes this story so fascinating is that Finn himself is an avid runner, & is always game to place himself into the story, making local connections & even running with the professional athletes whenever he has the chance. I also really enjoyed how the author goes beyond running, describing the challenges his daughters face as they attend a Japanese school & the families amusing miscalculations as they muddle, at first, their way through each day in a completely foreign society. One part travelogue, one part inspirational sports narrative, this story is woven together honestly & skillfully, & is the best of everything I enjoy about first-person writing. After reading (errr, I mean listening), I’m determined to visit Japan in the future & would love to take part in a recreational ekiden.


When I realized Adharanand Finn had wrote another book before The Way of the Runner, I downloaded it right away. In Running with the Kenyans: Discovering the Secrets of the Fastest People on Earth, he relates his incredible journey, again with his wife & three young children in tow, to Kenya, where he explores what it is the really makes the Kenyans SO darn fast. If you’re looking for a magic formula, you won’t find it, but the real magic in this book is Finn’s story of training for a marathon in Lewa with a group of Kenyans, & his experience getting to know them & immersing himself in the Kenyan running culture. Again, with his wonderful sense of humour, Finn shares what the trip is like for his family. I have a feeling that this book will give me a much greater appreciation for the long-distance athletes in this summer’s upcoming Olympic Games.

If you love running, travelling, & reading, then I can’t recommend these books enough. Give them a read, or a listen, & let me know what you think!



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The 50 Book Pledge: 2015

I’ve always loved books.

At age 4, I convinced by Mom to read me The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. At first she tried to explain that I wouldn’t like the books because there were no pictures, but I’d been inexplicably drawn to the light-blue boxed set on the top shelf in our basement, & boy was she wrong! I fell in love and happily listened to Laura’s stories of growing up in the woods, adventuring in the wagon with Pa, Ma, & Mary, teaching in a one room school house, & meeting Almanzo Wilder.

“I owe everything I am and everything I will ever be to books.”

— Gary Paulsen

By Grade 2 I was reading Anne of Green Gables on my own, and could easily polish off several short chapter books in a day. Scholastic book orders were even better than the Sear’s catalogue at Christmas time! I will never forget the $5 garage sale box my Mom picked up at the arena during a fundraiser one summer. It was filled with Babysitter Club & Little Sister books that I consumed at a rapid pace. Remember the adventures of Kristy & Claudia & Hanny & Nancy?  Good times.

Fast forward to university and my love of reading made English an obvious choice for my major. Unfortunately, pursuing an English major can put reading for pure enjoyment on the back burner. Don’t get me wrong, I loved many of the novels and short stories I read in university, but having a book assigned is never the same as picking one to read on your own.

In 2015, the 50 Book Pledge forced me to reclaim my love of reading for pleasure. I threw conventions out the window. I banished the guilt I used to feel for reading anything “less” than literary fiction. I read graphic novels. I smaryannkubscribed to audible and began listening to audibooks as I worked in the garden or tackled a long road trip. I tried manga (for the first and last time). I read books that were, quite frankly, forgettable. I read books I wanted to recommend to every human being by standing on the rooftops and shouting, “This story is amazing. It’s life-changing! Read this book!” I even re-read favourites from my childhood. I read because it was fun again!

Curious? Check out the complete list of my 50 book pledge reads below, search the #50bookpledge hashtag on Twitter, or creep the archive of my twitter feed (@kirsten61), as I tweeted about my reading adventures throughout the year. gosetharper

P.S. I hummed & hawed for a few days about what kind of reading challenge I should try in 2016, & I settled on the 50 Book Pledge again. I’d love for you to join me! To sign-up visit

  1. Mr. Hockey By Gordie Howe
  2. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
  3. Say What’s Real By Melissa Molomo
  4. Unbroken By Laura Hillenbrand
  5. The Bean Trees By Barbara Kingsolver
  6. Into Thin Air By John Krakauer
  7. The Hound of the Baskervilles Graphic Novel Adaptation By Sir Author Conan Doyle
  8. The Ash Garden By Dennis Bock
  9. Room By Emma Donoghue
  10. Festive in Death By J.D. Robb
  11. When God was a Rabbit By Sarah Winman
  12. The Trouble with Alice By Olivia Glazebrook
  13. The Cellist of Sarajevo By Steven Galloway
  14. Saga By Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
  15. Prodigal Summer By Barbara Kingsolver
  16. The Contender By Robert Lipsyte
  17. Under the Banner of Heaven By John Krakauer
  18. I Am Hutterite By Mary-Ann Kirkby
  19. Survival Tips for New Teachers By Cheryl Miller Thurston
  20. Skim By Mariko & Jillian Tamaki
  21. American Sniper By Chris Kyle
  22. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks By Rebecca Skloot
  23. GENIUS By Seagle & Kristiansen
  24. Alice in the Country of Hearts By QuinnRose
  25. Moonwalking with Einstein By Joshua Foer
  26. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles By Amy Newmark & Natasha Stoynoff
  27. Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen By Mary-Ann Kirkby
  28. David Thompson: A Life of Adventure & Discovery By Ella Andra-Warner
  29. Masters of True Crime: Chilling Stories of Murder & the Macabre Edited By R. Barri Flowers
  30. Go Set a Watchman By Harper Lee
  31. The Keeper By Suzanne Woods Fisher
  32. Animal Farm By George Orwell
  33. Brian’s Hunt By Gary Paulsen
  34. Julie of the Wolves By Jean Craighead George
  35. The Wave By Todd Strasser
  36. Charlotte’s Web By E.B. White
  37. Turn Homeward, Hannalee By Patricia Beatty
  38. Anya’s Ghost By Vera Brosgol
  39. No Stone Unturned: The True Story of the World’s Premier Forensic Investigators By Steve Jackson
  40.  Friends with Boys By Faith Erin Hicks
  41. Death Sentence: The True Story of Velma Barfield’s Life, Crimes, & Punishment By Jerry Bledsoe
  42. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas Magic By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, & Amy Newmark
  43. Christmas with Anne & Other Holiday Stories By L.M. Montgomery
  44. The Birth House By Ami McKay
  45. A Cedar Cove Christmas By Debbie Macomber
  46. A Christmas Carol By Charles Dickens
  47. James & the Giant Peach By Roald Dahl
  48. Missing Wives, Missing Lives By JJ Slate
  49. Resistance: Book 1 By Carla Jablonski & Leland Purvis
  50. Til’ Death do us Part: A Collection of Newlywed Murder Cases By JJ Slate



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