Watching the 1988 Olympic Games on television saved Clara Hughes’ life and changed its course forever, the six-time Canadian Olympic medallist told a group of high school students in Vancouver Thursday.

Hughes began smoking in Grade 6 and said she was smoking a pack a day by 16. She was getting into drugs and alcohol and even left school for three months.

“Something happened inside when I saw speedskating,” Hughes told a group of 20 Grade 11 students enrolled in the Take-A-Hike program for at-risk youth. “I knew that that was what I wanted to do from that day forward.”

Hughes showed off her 2010 bronze medal (5,000 metres) and led the students on a bike ride around the Stanley Park seawall.

“I’m telling them, ‘Hey, I was you. Look at me now.’ Anything is possible. You have the chance to make good choices for yourself everyday. Don’t lose these opportunities. It’s your life.”