I haven’t written much about the Olympics in the last 11 or so days since it’s been on. I had written a few weeks ago how much of a geek I am about them, that I love every aspect of them. Canada has had some wonderful moments. Who will ever forget watching Frederic Bilodeau cheering his brother Alexandre on to Gold in the Men’s Freestyle Moguls? The feeling watching Canada get it’s first gold medal on Canadian soil? The beauty of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir as they skated so flawlessly to Ice Dancing gold? I won’t…it’s been wonderful. Who cares if we’ve only got 11 medals so far? Canadian athletes have done us proud.
There has been a few tragic stories as well…the death of the Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on the day of the opening ceremonies. So incredibly sad and cast a shadow over that wonderful night. And then there’s the death of Therese Rochette, the mother of Canadian figure skater, Joannie Rochette. Joannie skates tonight, and I am so happy that she made the decision to skate. Not because I want her to get on the podium, but because it’s probably the best place in the world that she can be at this terrible time in her life. I speak from a little bit of experience here.
When I was 18, my mother had a cerebral aneurysm. Mum had to undergo a lengthy surgery to repair it. She came through the 10 + hour operation, with flying colours…she spoke to my father and was well. I was a member of YBC, the Youth Bowling Council, and I was scheduled to go to a big tournament the Friday after the operation. Ok, so it wasn’t the Olympics…but it was a big tournament, and it was incredibly important to me. Mum was doing well, so off I went to the Friday night banquet at the hotel we were staying at. We were to bowl on Saturday. Imagine my surprise when, as we were lining up for team pictures, my older brother showed up at hotel. My mother was in a coma, it didn’t look good at all.
We rushed to Toronto General Hospital, and went in to see mum with my Grandpa. She looked terrible, tubes everywhere, and I had this huge sense of dread. When I came out, my dad said I had a decision to make. I could stay and be with him and mum and everyone, or I could go back to the hotel and bowl in the morning. Dad also said that, if mum did come through this, and found out I didn’t bowl in this tournament that I was so excited about and happy to have qualified for, that I would get in SO much trouble from her. There was nothing I could do there, except worry and fret, and I may as well be doing something that I enjoyed doing.
So I went…and I was so glad I did. I didn’t sleep much, but I got up in the morning and we made our way to the tournament. We bowled, we didn’t win (I think we came 2nd or 3rd, I have no idea) and went back to the hotel to get ready for the dinner and dance. Two of the coaches, Jen and Nancy (both ladies had known me since I was 5 years old) were in the room on the phone when I got there. It was my dad on the phone…my mother had died…she was only being kept alive in order to harvest her organs the next day. It was March 26, 1988 and it was, to this very day, the single, worst day of my life.
The next hours were a bit of a blur…I remember all my teammates and bowling friends hugging me, crying (most had known my mother for years, she worked in the snack bar during YBC leagues for many seasons)…I remember the tearful ride to my house in Brampton with Mr. and Mrs. P…I remember the emptiness of the house and I remember the look of complete and utter devastation in my fathers eyes.
In hindsight, I am so very, very, glad that I made that decision to go and bowl in that tournament. It was the best place I could have been. I don’t think that those friends and teammates surrounding me that day knew how important it was that they were there with me and I with them. I drew strength from them, they had been a part of my life for such a very long time.
That’s why I know that Joannie has made the right decision. Going after her dream, being surrounded by her family and the skating community. It’s the only place in the world that she should be tonight…and I hope she has the skate of her life…not for Canada, but for her mother and herself. Good luck, Joannie!!!