Mon, September 23, 2013

Mom sheds light on private side of Emilie Heymans

By REJEAN TREMBLAY, QMI Agency


Emilie Heymans (left) hugs her mom before departing for the 2012 London Olympic Games, July 16, 2012. (PIERRE-PAUL POULIN/QMI Agench)


LONDON - She has her mother’s blue eyes. Blue and calm. Marie-Paule Heymans was sitting close to me on the Canada House’s small platform.

It was past six and honestly, the ceremony reminded me of the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques’ era. We were honouring Emilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel, and Marcel Aubut, the Canadian Olympic Committee president, recalled a few tricks from that time.

In other words, it was a party, a true party.

The two quietest people in this sea of guests were without a doubt Emilie and Marie-Paule. You just could not get a minute of one-on-one with Emilie. Moreover, she keeps to herself and doesn’t open a lot, so trying to make people discover and know her was a lost cause. Even a little bit would have been nice.

Marie-Paule, on the other hand, had a lot of time. A former PE teacher in Belgium, she wore her country’s colours in the 1976 Montreal Games, very proud of her ninth place in fencing. She does not get annoyed easily.

She’s reserved ... and independent

She was wearing a little smile while we talked, showing more amusement than it did satisfaction: “Emilie won four medals, but she’s not crazy about it. Maybe because she’s the first diver to achieve that,” she pondered quietly while the madness continued around her.

“Emilie is a big girl who keeps to herself. She’s not shy, she’s reserved. It’s not the same. She has always been like this. And she was much more introverted at 20. When she was really young, we enrolled her in Montreal’s Gymnix club. She loved gymnastics and she immediately found she had a passion for sports. We were surprised, since we did not talk about my Olympic experience at home. Maybe it’s in that club that she discovered she was an athlete’s daughter.

“But at 9, she already towered over other gymnasts. It pained her to quit gymnastics but she chose diving,” Mrs Heymans tells us.

At 19, Emilie left the family house to live in an apartment: “We did send her older sister Severine to live with her. Still, she was very independent. She remained that way. At 20 or 23, we did not see her a lot, she was so busy. But at 30, she comes back home more often. A good supper does wonders,” she says with a smile.

If I had to use the right words to describe this tall, beautiful woman who Quebec seems to discover all over again, what would they be?

Marie-Paule Heymans thinks about it for a few seconds. To weigh her words: “As she got older, she opened more. But in everyday life, she still keeps to herself. And she loves when things are done right. I would say it borders on perfectionism. For instance, when she works on her swimming suit collection, she can spend hours on end finding the right thread for a part,” she says.

She continues: “But you can see better, now, that Emilie has a hidden sensitivity. This reserved attitude is a form of protection. During tough times, she shielded herself. After 2005, when she rebuilt her team and looked for the people and the specialists she wanted around her, she asked a sports psychologist for help and set her goals,” explains Momma Heymans.

I asked Emilie if she was retiring after the London Games. She refused to answer. She told my colleague Louis Butcher, whom she met a few times, that she would go on for a year. Yesterday evening, she said the same. Without further details.

What does Marie-Paule think about it?

“She keeps that door open. This way, she will not suffer too much after the Games. This won’t be like a breakup. She may go on for a year. But not much more, I think. Her body will not hold up. Her knees are finished. She doesn’t have cartilage anymore. Pierre Ranger, her physician, wonders how she can leap on the board with such force,”

Years of gymnastics, years of learning to dive, years of training, years of competitive events.

And we complain about a few flights of stairs?