TORONTO - Joannie Rochette is thankful that time is the great healer. But she also knows that the Vancouver Olympics — that place and time of such immense pain and accomplishment — will always be part of her life, part of who she is and always will be.
When she looks back on those days, the memories are still very fresh, and, again, probably always will be. Which is both a blessing and a curse.
“It feels like the Olympics just happened,” Rochette on Wednesday in a conference call to commemorate the first anniversary of the Vancouver Games. “Every time I look at my medal, it has a lot of different meanings for me.”
And of course there would be. Her bronze medal means so much more than a typical medal would. The fact that she was able to capture the bronze just days after her mother Therese died of a heart attack at the age of 55, shortly after arriving in Vancouver to watch her daughter skate, inspired people around the world and lifted Rochette to icon status, where she remains today. But she also knows that whenever she looks at her medal, she will think of Therese, her guiding light.
Rochette said it was her mom’s dream, as much as her own, to win an Olympic medal, and not being able to share that triumph has been the most difficult part of all.
The Ile-Dupas, Que., native said that she experienced her deepest despair after she had left Vancouver and returned home to Quebec. The fact that she was able to carry on at the Olympics and finish third in the women’s singles showed her incredible inner strength, and demonstrated, again, her extraordinary talent, which is often overlooked when her story is relived.
But with the support she received in Vancouver from the Canadian Olympic Committee and her friends and teammates no longer there when she returned home, the grief really took hold, for both her and her father, Normand.
“When I came back, I just wanted to stay in bed all day and stay in the dark,” she said. “I realized that life had changed forever.”
Rochette said she pushed herself to carry on because that’s what her mom would have wanted. After Vancouver, she wanted to go to the world championships, but her coach approached her at her mom’s funeral and told her that it was too early.
But Rochette did come back and remaining busy has helped her with the grieving process. She has yet to return to the Grand Prix circuit, and will not compete at the 2011 world championships next month in Tokyo, but she did compete at the Japan Open in October, winning the ladies event, and has travelled the world, taking part in skating shows, giving motivational speeches and making appearances for her sponsors — including Birks Jewellers, Bell Canada and Cold FX, to name a few.
“I’ve competed all my life since I was 13 years old (and) I always said no to shows,” she said. “But this year, I wanted to enjoy my skating and be able to go around the world with no stress involved and do it for myself.”
Rochette also finished CEGEP, her pre-university education and is involved with the “iheartmom” campaign, an initiative of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute aiming to influence women’s attitudes and understanding of heart disease and to raise funds for research and treatment.
As for her future in competitive skating, Rochette, 25, is leaving her options open and is not ruling out the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Skate Canada officials would welcome her back with open arms. She is clearly the best women’s singles skaters Canada has seen in some time. Heading into Vancouver, Rochette was one of Canada’s leading athletes in any sport, the 2009 world championship silver-medallist — the first Canadian woman to win a medal at the worlds since Elizabeth Manley captured a silver in 1988 — and a six-time Canadian women’s champion.
“I am hoping to keep up that competitive spirit, even though I am doing more shows now, and I do want to stay competitive within the skating circuit,” Rochette said. “I will take my time to make a decision regarding competing in the future and I intend to keep my amateur status.”