Friday, February 26, 2010

Joannie Rochette: The Results Don't Matter

Joannie Rochette performs a spiral at the 2006...

It was a sunny June morning in 1997 when I received a call from my father, saying my mother had been hospitalized and wasn't expected to live. At first, I wasn't sure I'd heard him correctly; I'd seen her a couple of weeks earlier and she was fine. Apparently, she'd choked on some food at home, he'd taken her to the ER, and during the night she aspirated fluid into her right lung, and was now in the ICU with a rapidly developing case of Respiratory Distress Syndrome. A few days later, she was gone, and the following week I found myself performing her memorial service.

All of this came back to me when I learned of the unexpected death of Olympic skater Joannie Rochette's mother from a heart attack one week ago. My first thought was, Why now of all times? She's in shock, what's she going to do? Of course, as you know, she skated anyway and went on to win the Bronze medal last evening in Women's Figure Skating.

The past few days I've been writing about athletes who've inspired me in one way or another because of their mental balance, integrity, or their willingness to engage competition in spite of the odds against them. In Joannie's case, her greatest obstacle wasn't the presence of a world class field of women skaters, but rather her own grief. Ordinarily, I cheer for the Americans; this time I wanted to see Joannie on the podium, very badly.

What impresses me about her is the way she presented herself. She didn't attempt to draw overt attention to her distress but neither did she bottle up her feelings as though they were unimportant. She was entered in an event that meant a great deal to her as well as her mother and she knew the day would come when she would have wished she'd skated if she did not. This is an extremely mature way of thinking and it demonstrates her insight, realizing the pain of the moment would only become complicated by the pain of regret if she withdrew.

Following the medal ceremony, she said the results didn't matter,
"I'm happy to be on the podium. It was a lifetime project for me and my mom and we achieved that." I think she's an amazing young woman. Whether she continues to compete or chooses to finish her education, she's already established herself as someone possessing a depth of character that far exceeds her years. As for me, I can hardly wait to see who she reveals herself to be in four years. I'll be cheering then, too.

(Quote via Associated Press; GNU Free Documentation image of Joannie Rochette at the 2009 Skate Canada International via Wikipedia)
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