Featuring Sandra Bezic
This month, Debbi Wilkes visits with a champion, coach, choreographer and visionary, who many claim is the originator and architect for Canada’s worldwide reputation as a leader in choreography and artistic expression. Sandra Bezic began her love for the sport at her local rink learning to skate alongside her brother Val Bezic… the start of what would eventually become a Hall of Fame career which takes her around the world designing programs, shows and concepts that have changed the face of skating.
My Final Season
by Jeremy Ten, 3-time Canadian Medallist
The decision to retire from competition will be the toughest decision an athlete will have to make in their career. For me, that meant walking away from 16 years of hard work and dedication, thousands upon thousands of dollars spent, and countless hours day in and day out at the rink grinding away towards my ultimate dream; The Olympics. But ultimately for most, including myself, the dream of competing at the Olympic Games and walking in the opening ceremonies with an entire nation rallying behind you will remain just that, a dream.
In 2015, after two unsuccessful attempts to qualify for Canada’s Olympic team, I made the decision to compete one last season. I had three goals in mind:
- Land a quad in competition
- Beat all my personal bests
- Compete at my last Nationals knowing it would be the last time I would be competing in front of a Canadian audience
The quad was never my friend. It wasn’t that I was scared to learn it. Recovering both physically, but mainly mentally, from both my right ankle surgery and left fractured ankle in 2011, took much longer than I thought it would and delayed the process. I had one more shot to qualify for the Games in 2014 and risking further injury learning a quad didn’t seem worth it. I thought I could qualify for the games without it. I was wrong.
But in the summer of 2014, I had nothing to lose. And within two weeks of training “the darn thing” I landed it, at the ripe crisp age of 25. Later that November I accomplished my first goal and landed it in competition at NHK Trophy.
By the time I had arrived at Nationals in 2015, I had accomplished my second goal and earned a career best short, free, and cumulative total score over the course of the season. Finally, skating to Jeff Buckley’s haunting rendition of “Hallelujah,” and despite making costly mistakes on the first two jumps in the free skate, I rallied back to the support of the Canadian crowd and revelled in their cheers at the end of my free skate. Goal number three, check. To everyone’s surprise, including my own, I was awarded the silver and earned a spot on the Four Continents, World, and World Team Trophy teams.
However, the biggest reward came to me at the Four Continent Championships during a passing moment that lasted only seconds. As I held the door open for world renowned figure skating choreographer Lori Nichol, who stopped dead in her tracks, looked at me, and said, “I watched your skate at Nationals, and I was in tears. You are an artist. Never lose that.”
On the morning of June 12th, 2015, the press release announcing my retirement from competitive skating was released. Later that day, after crossing the stage to pick-up my university diploma, I headed to the site of my new home and picked up the keys to my brand-new apartment. I remembered thinking to myself before I crossed the stage, “Once you’re on the other side, you’re a grown-ass man.” I was no longer a student. I was no longer an athlete. I was no longer living under my parent’s roof. I was on my own. So, I decided to take a year and just LIVE. Live with no responsibility. Live without being bound to a harsh training regimen or an unbearable course load. Live in my fancy, brand new apartment.
After the year was up, I was faced with the question: What now?
If there is one thing that I know with my whole entire heart, it’s that I love skating. I absolutely love it. I love the glide, I love to jump, I love to spin, I love the art and expression; I love it all. And remembering Lori’s words, I knew that I had more to give to my craft. So, I reached out to Canadian choreographer Chris Nolan who had contacted me after watching my performance at nationals in 2014. Yes, the one where I didn’t qualify for the second time for an Olympic team. He told me that he liked my skating and to contact him when I was ready for a career in professional skating. He gave me the contact to Sylvia Froescher from Willy Bietak Productions Inc., and after a few e-mails back and forth, I had my first professional contract.
I am so thankful for my 2 years working on cruise ships, but I will admit, it isn’t for everyone. I was in my late twenties and sharing a bunk bed in a room the size of a shoe box. Not very glam. But besides that, and a few other details, I got to travel a lot of the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, while meeting wonderful people along the way, making great money, and most importantly, I was doing what I loved.
I quickly learned that working in a cast is so different from competition. It’s no longer just about you. You’re now part of a team and how you work together has a great impact on the quality of show you’re bringing to your audience. I learned new show skating terms like “guiding” and “birding” and after my first two contracts, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Emmy award winning choreographer Sarah Kawahara on a new show, “1977: A Skating Adventure on Ice” for the largest cruise ship in the entire world, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. It was my first time being in an original cast and seeing how a show is created from start to finish; also known as “the creation process.”
Back on Land/Cirque Du Soleil
Following my third and final ship contract, Willy Bietak invited me to be a part of another original cast, “Opera Festival on Ice,” choreographed by both Sarah Kawahara and Chris Nolan. After a short but intense three week long creation process, we headed to Muscat, Oman in the Middle East to perform in the Royal Muscat Opera house. It was my first time in the Middle East and never in a million years did I think that I would be traveling there to skate of all things. But there I was, skating in a beautifully constructed Opera house, accompanied by a 40-piece orchestra and 5 Opera singers, to one of my favourite pieces of music, “Carmen.”
It was at the airport coming home that I found out the news. There in my inbox was the e-mail I had been waiting for… An invitation to join the cast of Cirque du Soleil’s brand-new show, “White” (now known as Axel). I had applied on a whim when a friend told me that they had requested a video of my work. My own demons and lack of confidence prevented me from applying for their first on-ice show, Crystal, but I remembered back to when I was 13 or 14 and attending my first Cirque du Soleil show with my family. I remember thinking how amazing it would be to work in a production of this kind.
I remembered Lori’s words. This was my chance. And after a month of filming and some movie editing magic, I threw together an audition reel and sent it in hoping for the best. I honestly would have been happy if they came back to me and said that I was playing the role of a bush or a rock. They offered me one of the three lead roles.
I flew to Montreal in June to begin our 4-month long creation process and to meet my new cast of 41 artists comprising of five musicians and singers, 18 skaters, 17 acrobats and one puppeteer.
Cirque du Soleil’s AXEL is the brain child of Creative Director, Patricia Ruel, as well as Writer and Director, Fernand Rainville, and is brought to life by lead choreographer, Sam Chouinard who has most notably worked with 2-time Olympic Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, as well as assistant choreographers Ben Agosto (Olympic Silver medalist), Katherine Hill, and Elladj Balde.
AXEL is an odyssey on ice in which graphics, live music, lasers, pyrotechnics, skating and acrobatics come together to create a colourful, emotionally rich universe; all from the vivid imagination of the lead protagonist, Axel, a young musician with a passion for illustration.
I play the role of Vi, an ego-maniacal and malevolent character who feeds on fear and is created by Axel. He leads his gang of nefarious rebels known as La Corporation and his main goal throughout the entire show is to steal the mystical light from Lei, Axel’s love interest and heroine.
The creative team drew inspiration from graphic arts and Japanese manga as well as the energy and excitement of arena concerts and sports events to create an electro-pop circus show on ice.
When I think back to my time as a competitive figure skater and my dream of going to the Olympics, I ask myself: Would my life be any different than it is now? The simple answer is no. Yes, the experience would have been amazing, but it would have all been for personal gain. The important thing is that I developed a new dream and new goals but this time, this dream is one that I’m living. I mean who wouldn’t want to play an evil villainous snake creature who is powered by fear itself.
Skating in Two Worlds “AT HOME”
by Ann Shaw, Skate Canada Hall of Fame Member
Strangely, Maria and Otto Jelinek competed at not just one but two World Championships in two different home countries: one in their “Adopted Country” and one in their “Birth Country”.
In a recent interview with Alumni Committee member Ann Shaw, Maria explained the situation.
Their first Worlds at home took place in their “Adopted Country” Canada, in Vancouver in 1960, following just two weeks after their 4th place finish at the Olympic Games in Squaw Valley. The ISU had finally named Canada to host Worlds for the first time since it was held in Montreal in 1932!!!
The CFSA (now Skate Canada) had worked hard to convince the ISU to assign this event to Canada, with five clubs in the Vancouver area working together to pull it off. Looking back on Vancouver Worlds, Maria said, “After 60 years, it’s hard trying to remember how I felt except that it was with a pretty easy-going attitude at the time.” She and her brother Otto had competed in 3 previous World Championships placing 3rd in pairs in Colorado Springs in 1957 and in Paris in 1958 and 4th in Colorado Springs in 1959. So, they were fairly seasoned veterans by the time they reached Vancouver and were happy to be competing before a home audience in their adopted country. They responded to that opportunity by climbing the podium to finish with a silver medal just behind Olympic Champions and fellow teammates Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul.
The story of their second Worlds at home, this time in their “Birth Country”, occurred in 1962 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, a story which requires a little backtracking.
In the mid-1940’s, the Jelinek’s were a prosperous family living in Prague, the dad running a cork business, when first the Nazis and then the Communists took over the country. Eventually, after the communist regime nationalized the family business, the whole family was forced to flee leaving everything behind including their home and friends, to eventually settle in Canada. Maria was 6 years old and Otto 8.
Fast forward fourteen years to 1961 when Worlds was scheduled to be held in Prague. Initially Mr. Jelinek forbade Otto and Maria to go fearing they would be detained there. With the communist Czech government still considering them to be Czech citizens, he worried that Otto might even be drafted into the Czech army.
Tragically that World event was cancelled when the entire American team died in a plane crash on the way to Prague.
The event was eventually rescheduled to be held back in Prague the next year. In the meantime, the CFSA and the Canadian government were able to get the Czech government to ensure that Maria and Otto would have “safe passage”. Mr. Jelinek relented and let them go although he and his wife had to settle for watching the event on TV from Davos, Switzerland. Unlike their children, they were not guaranteed safe passage. Sadly, the senior Jelinek’s never returned to their homeland.
Maria recalled how the return to the Prague Worlds was so special for both of them – very moving and a bit of a fairy tale – and a memory which still gives her goose bumps to think about even now. She admitted, “It was scary going back.” The communist government told the Czech media not to write about the Jelinek’s, but word had spread that a young Czech couple were skating for Canada.
Amid thunderous applause, they brought down the house when they won gold to bring joy to Canadians from their adopted home, and to the Czech people of their native homeland who were all so proud of their success.
For Maria and Otto, becoming World Champions was very special. And winning the title on home soil made their remarkable sporting and political story into a legend worthy of being covered in a book called “On Thin Ice” published in 1965.
Sequel to the Dual Home-Worlds Story
The story of the Jelinek’s and their connection to Prague did not end there.
In the intervening years, Otto had risen in Canadian politics to become an MP in the federal government and eventually Minister of State for Fitness and Amateur Sport.
Subsequent to that, when the communist regime ended in Czechoslovakia (the country split into the Czech and Slovak Republics), Otto had occasion to go back to Prague to help a firm in the country transition to the non-communist state. After a year he decided to stay on as Chairman of Deloitte & Touche and for many years thereafter to assist other organizations. Later he was appointed Canadian Ambassador to the Czech Republic. Maria and her other 3 siblings often had occasion to visit Otto in Prague during those days.
In time, the former Jelinek home in Prague became the Austrian Embassy. Some of the Jelinek china with the letter “J” still on it was being used there while the books in the library still displayed the Jelinek name. Otto, as the Canadian Ambassador, was often invited there by the Austrian Ambassador. Rumour had it that Otto was reported to have shown him a secret switch in a room that opened a door leading to a secret passage.
Two years ago, a reunion of the Jelinek family was held in Prague with 80 family members in attendance! Since many of the younger Jelinek’s had never been in the old family home, one of the highlights was that they all were invited to a reception held there and hosted by the Austrian Embassy. Maria and Otto’s older brother (who could remember more than anyone) showed everyone where their rooms had been, and recounted the wonderful tales of life and activities in that home before they had to flee.
Two home countries and two different World Championship memories.
Fans are invited to have a chat with Maria about her incredible skating adventure when she attends Canadians in Mississauga and Worlds in Montreal.
Skate Canada Hall of Fame Members: Maria and Otto Jelinek
Learning to skate in their native Czechoslovakia, this outstanding brother and sister pair emigrated to Canada in 1951 and joined the Oakville Skating Club. They were Canadian Junior Pair champions in 1955, and their success in senior competition included four silver medals and the 1961 and 1962 Canadian Senior pair crowns. Overcoming severe injuries, they went on to claim the 1961 North American Pair title. A dedication to excellence and drive for perfection led them to become World bronze medallists in 1957 and 1958 and silver medallists in 1960. In 1962 they won the World pair title in their native Prague. Retiring from amateur competition in 1962, they went on to enjoy a six year professional career.
Worlds Rewind: Ottawa 1984
As the countdown to the ISU World Figure Skating Championships ® 2020 in Montreal, Quebec continues, we look back at previous world championships staged in Canada. Part 5 of the ten-part series reflects on the 1984 world championships in Ottawa.
For Canadian pair legends Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, it was a world title that almost wasn’t.
As the 1984 ISU World Figure Skating Championships returned to Ottawa from March 20-25 – just six years after the nation’s capital hosted the 1978 edition of the event – Underhill and Martini, coming off a disappointing seventh place showing at the Sarajevo Olympic Winter Games weeks earlier, considered taking a pass on the home world championships.
“We came home very disappointed from the Olympics, very down,” admitted Martini at the time. “I don’t think anyone can appreciate how far we’ve come in the past two weeks. We came very close to not coming here at all.”
The decision to compete ended up being a wise one.
Energized by a rousing pro-Canadian crowd of more than 10,000 at the Ottawa Civic Centre, Underhill and Martini trailed Olympic and defending world champions Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev after the short program but delivered a flawless long program to dethrone the Soviet Union team and become the first Canadians to win a world championship since Karen Magnussen captured the women’s crown in 1973.
“After Sarajevo, skating wasn’t fun anymore, added Underhill. “We went to the rink because we had to, because people here had paid money to see us. But we didn’t want to.”
In the men’s competition, the growing rivalry between American Scott Hamilton and Canadian Brian Orser continued to evolve. Coming off a gold medal in Sarajevo – where Orser won silver – Hamilton captured his fourth straight world championship, with Orser once stepping up to the second step on the podium.
Riding a wave of momentum from the Sarajevo Olympics, the legendary British ice dance tandem of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean made sure the ice dance competition in Ottawa was a mere formality. Their dazzling Boléro free dance, which earned unprecedented perfect 6.0 scores for artistic impression from all nine judges in Sarajevo, is widely regarded as one of the most iconic in figure skating history, and Torvill and Dean did not disappoint in Ottawa as they cruised to their fourth straight world title. Tracy Wilson and Robert McCall, whose career would be highlighted by seven Canadian titles, three world bronze medals and an Olympic bronze, placed sixth in Ottawa.
Katarina Witt of East Germany, fresh off a gold medal performance in Sarajevo, won her first of four ladies’ world titles, with Anna Kondrashova of the Soviet Union earning silver and American Elaine Zayak taking home bronze. Kay Thomson was the top Canadian, finishing in fifth.
Canada would next host the world championships in 1990, when Halifax welcomed the world to the Maritimes.
1984 WORLD FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS MEDALLISTS
|Men||Scott Hamilton||Brian Orser||Alexander Fadeev|
|Ladies||Katarina Witt||Anna Kondrashova||Elaine Zayak|
|Pair skating||Barbara Underhill / Paul Martini||Elena Valova / Oleg Vasiliev||Sabine Baeß / Tassilo Thierbach|
|Ice dancing||Jayne Torvill / Christopher Dean||Natalia Bestemianova / Andrei Bukin||Judy Blumberg / Michael Seibert|
Skate Canada saddened by the passing of Kevin Lethbridge, 1965-1966 Canadian Ice Dance Champion
As we move into a new year, it’s always a time to reflect on the old year, including the sadness we feel at the loss of some members of the Canadian skating community. December 2019 marked the passing of two-time Canadian Ice Dance Champion Kevin Lethbridge. We send our condolences to Kevin’s family and friends.
Kevin Francis Lethbridge passed away at home in Woodstock Ontario, in the early hours of Monday December 23, 2019 with his wife and daughter by his side. He had been diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer in early October. He was eighty years old.
Kevin is survived by his wife Elisa, daughter Adriana Lethbridge (Lanny MacMillan), grandson Reid, granddaughter Fiona, brother Michael (Jeanne) Lethbridge, and many loving extended family members. Kevin was predeceased by his mother Hilda, his brother Eugene, his sister Imelda, his father Arthur, and his stepmother Marie. Kevin came to Canada at the age of eight when his parents moved their young family to Toronto in 1947 from London, England.
Kevin loved many sports, but figure skating was his favourite. Along with his partner Carole Robinson (nee Forest), he won two Canadian Ice Dance Championships in 1965 and 1966. They travelled all over to compete internationally, placing in the top ten four times at the World Figure Skating Championships, including a seventh place finish in Dortmund Germany in 1964. Kevin had a career in Civil Engineering and also coached Figure Skating, partnering his daughter through almost all of her ice dance tests at the Mississauga Figure Skating club. When he wasn’t working or skating, he loved to spend time at the family cottage in Sauble Beach.
We have received amazing advice and support during this difficult time, and for that, we would like to thank all of our wonderful family and friends, the home care staff from Southwest Local Health Integration Network, the staff at Woodstock General Hospital, Victoria Hospital in London, the London Regional Cancer Program, and the staff at Wareing Cremation in Woodstock.
Donations to the Canadian Cancer Society or to the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto, two charities which were very close to Kevin’s heart, are appreciated and may be made directly or through Wareing Cremation Services, 225 Norwich Avenue, Woodstock (519-290-5575).
Joyce Hisey, Skate Canada Hall of Fame Member, Receives Order of Canada
December 28, 2019
Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, today announces 120 new appointments to the Order of Canada. The new member list includes 5 Companions (C.C.), 38 Officers (O.C.), and 77 Members (C.M.). Recipients will be invited to accept their insignia at a ceremony to be held at a later date.
About the Order of Canada
Created in 1967, the Order of Canada is one of our country’s highest honours. Presented by the governor general, the Order honours people whose service shapes our society, whose innovations ignite our imaginations, and whose compassion unites our communities.
Close to 7 500 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the Order of Canada. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and have taken to heart the motto of the Order: DESIDERANTES MELIOREM PATRIAM (“They desire a better country”). The striking, six-point white enamel insignia they wear symbolizes our northern heritage and our diversity, because no two snowflakes are alike.
For a full list of recipients, with short citations, and a backgrounder on the Order of Canada can be found here.
Members of the Order of Canada
Pita Aatami, C.M., C.Q.
Brian Ahern, C.M.
Mathew Baldwin, C.M.
T. Robert Beamish, C.M.
Ronald Duncan Besse, C.M.
Paul Born, C.M.
Maurice Brisson, C.M.
Omer Chouinard, C.M.
Diane Clement, C.M.
Mitchell Cohen, C.M.
John Collins, C.M.
The Hon. James Cowan, C.M., Q.C.
Phillip Crawley, C.M., C.B.E.
Valerie Lynn Creighton, C.M., S.O.M.
Anne Innis Dagg, C.M.
Mary Eberle Deacon, C.M.
The Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo, C.M.
Xavier Dolan, C.M., C.Q.
Hugo Eppich, C.M.
Wayne John Fairhead, C.M.
Ronald Charles Fellows, C.M.
Thomas J. Foran, C.M., O.N.L.
Eric D. Friesen, C.M.
Berna Valencia Garron, C.M.
Myron Austin Garron, C.M.
Hana Gartner, C.M.
Marie Giguère, C.M.
Katherine Govier, C.M.
Brig.-Gen. the Hon. John James Grant, C.M., C.M.M., O.N.S., C.D.
Ken Greenberg, C.M.
Roger D. Grimes, C.M.
Arshavir Gundjian, C.M.
Sarah Hall, C.M.
Pavel Hamet, C.M., O.Q.
Peter Harrison, C.M.
Joyce Louise Hisey, C.M.
Gordon J. Hoffman, C.M., Q.C.
Steve E. Hrudey, C.M., A.O.E.
John S. Hunkin, C.M.
Johnny Nurraq Seotaituq Issaluk, C.M.
Peter Kendall, C.M.
Hal Philip Klepak, C.M., C.D.
alcides lanza, C.M.
Cathy Levy, C.M.
Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia, C.M., O.B.C.
Derek Lister, C.M.
Julie Macfarlane, C.M.
Isabelle Marcoux, C.M.
R. Mohan Mathur, C.M.
Donald S. Mavinic, C.M.
Denyse McCann, C.M.
Séan McCann, C.M.
Brian Theodore McGeer, C.M.
Stuart M. McGill, C.M.
Anthony Bernard Miller, C.M.
Nadir H. Mohamed, C.M.
Susan Helena Mortimer, C.M.
M. Lee Myers, C.M.
Paul Nicklen, C.M.
The Hon. Donald H. Oliver, C.M., Q.C.
Brian Stuart Osborne, C.M.
Louis-Frédéric Paquin, C.M.
Ralph Pentland, C.M.
Michael U. Potter, C.M.
Robert Dick Richmond, C.M.
Larry Rosen, C.M.
Janice Sanderson, C.M.
Kourken Sarkissian, C.M.
Duncan Gordon Sinclair, C.M.
Harry Sheldon Swain, C.M.
Beverly Thomson, C.M.
Darren Dennis Throop, C.M.
Jennifer Tory, C.M.
Gordon W. Walker, C.M., Q.C.
Mel Watkins, C.M.
Sheri-D Wilson, C.M.
Lynn Margaret Zimmer, C.M.
Skate Canada Hall of Fame Member – Joyce Hisey
The 1952 Canadian Silver Dance medallist from Toronto went on to become a long serving and effective volunteer and official, leaving her mark on the sport of figure skating from the club to the world level. A judge for more than 40 years, she evaluated thousands of young Canadian skaters at tests and competitions. First elected to the CFSA Board of Directors in 1977, Joyce served as the Chairman of the Officials Development Committee for many years, and contributed to the revision of ice dancing technical manuals for judges and coaches.
Named an International Skating Union referee in Ice Dancing in 1978, her assignments included officiating at many Canadian, International and World events. Her latest contribution was serving as the ISU Technical Delegate for the highly successful 1996 World’s in Edmonton. She was appointed to the ISU Dance Committee from 1984-1992.
She has served on the ISU Council since 1992. A volunteer on many CFSA committees, Joyce was a team leader at numerous competitions, including the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. Figure skating chairman of the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, she received the Alberta Achievement Award for her outstanding contribution.
Joannie Rochette: FULFILLING A LIFELONG DREAM
By Robert Brodie ©IFS | Jan 2, 2020
Almost a decade has passed since that heart-breaking week at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, when Rochette lost her beloved mother, Thérèse, to a heart attack. Somehow, she summoned the courage to produce the defining moment of her career — and as the world held its collective breath she skated to a bronze medal in Vancouver. As it turned out, Rochette never competed again, moving on to a life of show skating and other off-ice pursuits such as skydiving.
In 2015, she entered McGill University, fulfilling a life-long desire to study medicine. She now spends most of her days on hospital wards, clad in a plain white coat. Less than a year from now, she will be addressed as Dr. Rochette — a thought that evoked a burst of laughter when this reality was presented to her.
Now in her final year, Rochette submitted her application for the residency program in November and said “interviews take place in January and February and we get our answer in March.” McGill students are permitted to do an internship at a different university hospital in their graduating year and Rochette is now fulfilling that requirement at a local hospital in Montréal.
While some of her fellow students applied Canada-wide for a residency position, Rochette hopes to stay in Montréal, or at least as close as Ottawa, Toronto or Québec City. “As a resident doctor at a hospital I won’t be able to prescribe anything and will be supervised for the next two to five years. Everything I do will need to be approved by my supervising doctor,” said Rochette, adding that she is scheduled to write her licensing exam in May.
She has not yet decided in which area of medicine she would like to practice, but there are already many options to consider — and perhaps more to come. “I’ve done all my core rotations: surgery, internal medicine, cardiology, family medicine and psychiatry, so I have an idea,” the 33-year-old said. “But it’s interesting. Sometimes you think you have an idea about what you want to do and you think you’re going to love it — and then you realize you really don’t like it. It is true with the opposite, too. Some people go into med school really wanting to do surgery, but after their surgery rotation, it’s ‘nope, not for me.’ And then they want to go into internal medicine.”
Rochette had to do a surgical rotation last year. She described it as one of the most intense in terms of not having much free time away from the hospital. The condominium she has owned in Old Montréal the last eight years served as a respite for sleep, a few quiet moments with her cat Leo, and not much else during those rotations. “In surgery, you start at 5:45 in the morning, and you’re there until 7 or 8 p.m. I would eat a sandwich in my car on the way home, take a shower and go to bed,” she recalled. “You don’t have a life. You don’t see the sun for two months in the winter. I have a lot of respect for people who do that for a living because it’s not easy. I don’t want to do anything surgical.”
She also experienced a different side of medicine in early 2019, when she spent a month in Puvirnituq, a remote Inuit community in northern Québec. “It was part of my family medicine rural rotation. I thought it would be a really cool experience because we don’t know much about those communities up north,” Rochette explained. “Just to be there working and see how people live was very interesting. It was an eye opener.”
One might think that cardiology would hold a particular interest for Rochette, given that heart disease was the underlying cause of her mother’s premature death. However, the road to practicing in that field takes many more years and while Rochette said she loves cardiology she wants to start practicing medicine. “I think I would have loved cardiology anyways because as an athlete it’s pretty cool to understand how the heart works, especially after what happened to my mother, and also my grandfather and my uncle … there’s a lot of heart disease in my family,.
“Also, through my work with the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Heart Institute in Montréal, it’s something that I really got close to. But I don’t know if that will be my choice of career because with cardiology, it’s six to eight years of residency. I’m 33 now, so I would not be done until I am 40 or 42 years old. That will also influence my decision for sure.”
NEW ERA APPROVAL
Rochette finds it easy to understand why fellow Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond, in the wake of winning a World title and two Olympic medals (ladies and team) in 2018, would walk away from the competitive side of skating at age 24 and glide into the touring life. “She accomplished everything she wanted to and even more. She won Worlds, she got her Olympic medal, so yes, I can definitely understand that,” said Rochette. “With skating, you need to have a very strong discipline every year to compete and it’s not easy. When you have the opportunity to do shows, you get the best of both worlds. You can do what you love and make money without the stress of competition. Kaetlyn loves performing so it’s great for her to skate freely without that stress.”
The Montréal native is thrilled the World Championships are coming to her hometown in March. She and Patrick Chan are the athlete ambassadors for this competition, and Rochette believes it will be “great for the city and, hopefully, for skaters and skating fans to discover Montréal.” She will also be the athlete ambassador at the 2020 Canadian Championships in January.
She is also looking forward to being one of those fans who will have the opportunity to see a new generation of skaters with whom she is thoroughly impressed. “I love to watch and I love to see how it’s evolving, and seeing these younger skaters doing quadruple jumps … I think it’s crazy, and I’m glad I’m not competing during this time. I feel like they’re so good,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how every year the rules are changing a little bit, and how the skaters are using those changes to their advantage. It’s exciting to see all the guys doing these quad jumps that we never thought would be possible.
“There’s always people complaining about the technical side taking over too much, but you can’t be afraid of progress. It’s very exciting to see the evolution, but it’s also important to keep the artistic side — it’s what makes figure skating, figure skating.”
THEN AND NOW
Though becoming a doctor will fulfill a lifelong dream, Rochette admits a part of her still misses life on the ice. Skating brought her notoriety and public acclaim — in addition to her Olympic success, she claimed six Canadian titles and a World silver medal — along with memories that will stay with her for a lifetime.
Rochette’s competitive life ended in Vancouver in 2010, but she said it was not supposed to wind up that way. She had visions of perhaps competing for another year or two, maybe even going to a third Olympics in 2014. But life changed in so many ways after those Games, both on and off the ice, that those plans were shelved. Today, she admits to a tinge of regret about how it ended. “I didn’t plan on stopping right away after Vancouver — I wanted to do one or two more seasons, maybe get a World title,” she recalled. “But the way things happened after Vancouver — there was my mother’s funeral and I didn’t go to Worlds. I started training again at one point for the Japan Open, and I wanted to do the Olympics again. But, then I started doing shows, and there were so many great opportunities I never had before that I wanted to take — even some things outside of skating. So I never went back to competing.
“The first few years … the first cycle was hard. I was still skating in shows, but I really wanted to be in the Olympics again. When I was at the Sochi Games in 2014 (as a television commentator), it was bittersweet. Nothing beats being at the Olympics. But you have to be careful. You need to find something else that will … maybe not replace it but will give you the same thrill in life and motivation or satisfaction. Nothing will ever beat my life as a skater. It was amazing. We travelled the world, we had a great skating family, and there are people I still keep in touch with. Skating gives you that big family and gives you friends on almost every continent. That’s very cool.
“I don’t have any regrets, but at the same time, I miss it. I miss seeing the world, or being in a hotel in Japan and going to different restaurants. Show life was much more low stress than competition and we had so much fun together as a group. But then, it’s not something you can do until you’re 50 — well, don’t tell Kurt Browning I just said that — but it’s rare, and I feel like not many girls are doing it. I did Tessa and Scott’s show (the ‘Thank You Canada Tour’) in Québec City … it was cool to be back on the ice,and I got to do some of the group numbers. I do miss the crowds and I do miss skating, but it’s time to do something else. I feel like I’m so far away from skating nowadays that when I watch it, it’s exciting and I’m happy to just be watching it.”
When asked if people in her new world of medicine know her history as an Olympic figure skater, Rochette laughed. “Sometimes, a nurse will be looking at me funny and ask, ‘Were you here last year?’ or ‘Did we do a rotation together?’ Then I’ll come back the next day and the person will say, ‘Oh, I know who you are now.’ It happens a bit, but not as much as after 2010. It’s different now.”
Nonetheless, all these years later, Rochette still finds it difficult to explain the rollercoaster of emotions in Vancouver and how she handled it. To many, she will always be remembered for what transpired in February 2010. It is something she now understands was inevitable and she is content with that legacy.
By the time 2020 Worlds roll around, it will have been a full decade since the week that forever changed her life. Rochette ponders that thought, and while so much time has passed, there are momentary encounters that bring it all back. “I still sometimes meet people in the street who offer their condolences about my mother because they’ve never met me before,” she said. “But it’s been nine years and when I remind them, they say, ‘Oh, really, it’s been that long?’
“I can’t really change that. People remember and I think a lot of people were also living some of their hardest times through my story. A lot of people have come up to me and said things like, ‘Oh, when I watched you, I remembered when I lost my father.’ Or things like, ‘I was going through a hard time’ or ‘I was going through cancer.’ I feel like a lot of people identified with my story and related it to what they were going through. I guess I didn’t realize that in Vancouver, but when I came back the next year, that’s when I realized the Olympics are a really powerful media. Sport is great but when there is a story attached to it … I felt a lot of support and I felt lucky to be in Canada.
“There were times after Vancouver that I thought I would never get over it. Time really does heal and things do get better, but you never completely forget. I still miss my Mom and I think about her every single day. Every time I have life choices to make, I think about what she would say. You just don’t forget that. I’ve given a lot of speeches across the country with the Heart and Stroke Foundation, talking about it so I don’t get very emotional anymore. I almost feel like someone else went through it, not me. I don’t know how to explain that. But, sometimes images stick with us. I look at my life now, being in school, and I do feel like it’s been a long time.”
Rochette said that the sporting world and the one she lives in now “are very different” in many ways. “Skating is a lot of muscle memory and sometimes my legs would be burning and my body would be tired, but my brain would not be as tired. But, with medicine you’re training your brain … I feel like the learning is very different. It’s more exhausting; I don’t know how to explain it, but sometimes you feel brain exhaustion. Sometimes, you see patients with different pathologies that you have no idea about, and that’s quite stressful. You have to learn very quickly on the spot. You might be quizzed by the staff and you don’t want to look dumb. So you’re always on your guard. That kind of stress level, at the end of the day — you feel it. Some days are better than others, for sure. And some days, the amount of stuff you learn during the day is overwhelming.”
It has been quite the journey for Rochette who cannot wait to reach the finish line and move into her new life as a medical practitioner. “It feels so great to study medicine and to learn about the human body,” she said. “I feel very privileged.”
International Synchro Skating – Thinking Back 30 Years
by Bert Winfield
This time 30 years ago Precision/Synchro was experiencing growing pains!
Was it a feasible international sport? Did teams exhibit high levels of athleticism and creativity? Did the sport warrant ISU commitment and attention?
Thirty years ago, as a test case for the ISU and based loosely on existing ISU competition rules, the discipline was in the midst of back-to-back international skating competitions in Goteborg, Sweden and Helsinki, Finland, where on January 6, 1990, for the first time ever, three Canadian flags were raised to the rafters for the Laval, Whitby and Burlington senior teams.
The competition in Goteborg was hosted and organized by the Landvetter Skating Club whereas the Helsinki competition was the first Precision/Synchro to be organized and hosted by an ISU member skating association. Credit for their belief in the future of our sport must be given to Jane Erkko, Satu Procope and their association’s board members to take on such a venture at that stage in the sports infancy.
There were 40 teams representing 6 countries including 15 Canadian and USA clubs who fundraised to send 15 teams, for a total of more than 800 skaters and supporters.
From Canada: Burlington, Chateauguay, Delhi, Kingston, Kitchener, Surrey and Whitby; from USA: Atlanta, GA, Eiesettes, VI, Fraser, Mich, Greenbier, Ohio, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and St. Clair Shores, Michigan.
With this level of participation, involvement, belief and support, the success of the venture was assured. The numbers and enthusiasm of the North American teams was inspiring to everyone and solidified precision/synchro as an international sport.
Thanks go out to all the individuals and groups who have pursued the interests of this sport to the level it now enjoys. The future is exciting!
Our next goal for Synchro? To compete as an Olympic discipline!
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