By Dominique Liboiron
Joannie Rochette is one of my heroes. You may remember her as the Canadian figure skater who lost her mother to a heart attack during the 2010 Vancouver Games. I admire her ability to perform in the midst of tragedy.
A few days after her mom’s sudden death, Rochette won a bronze medal – a testament to her strength and determination. She described her Olympic experience at a conference I attended not long ago and afterwards I got to meet her. This was a chance I had been waiting for since watching the 2010 Games.
During her talk, Rochette described the shock of losing her mother at the Olympics. Initially, Rochette couldn’t believe it was true. Reality didn’t set in until she accompanied her father to the hospital to sign the death certificate. After that, nothing else mattered. Rochette admitted that she no longer had any desire to compete. Instead, the figure skater wanted to lock herself in her house and cry.
Rochette thought about her situation and realized that if she didn’t compete she’d regret it in the years to come. Also, all the time and effort she had put into training would be for nothing. This included all the hours and dollars her mother invested driving her daughter to practices and competitions. Because of this, Rochette decided to skate.
Rochette estimates she had practiced roughly 20,000 hours in preparation for the Olympics. To put that number into perspective, 20,000 hours is the same as eight hours of training a day for almost seven years. The Quebec native grew up figure skating and it would be no exaggeration to say she dedicated her youth to becoming good enough to compete at the Olympics. Keep in mind that the Olympic program in figure skating is four minutes long. She invested 20,000 hours for four minutes.
As part of the conference, Rochette showed us a video of her medal-winning performance. The video starts with Rochette getting advice from her coach. The young skater is clearly emotional and doing her best to stay composed, although not quite successfully. Then, Rochette entered into a calm, almost trance-like state and began her routine, which she performed with grace. When it’s over, she breaks down and cries – as I’m sure many people watching at home did in 2010.
After she showed us the video and finished her talk, a long line of people waited to speak with the bronze medalist. Many posed for selfies with Rochette while others shook her hand or asked for an autograph. When it was my turn, I thanked the Olympian for giving such an inspiring performance in Vancouver. Next, I explained to her that she had inspired me to develop a project to honour my uncle’s life when he died of a heart attack a few months after her mom. Rochette was gracious and perhaps a little surprised that her performance had inspired me. Her reaction told me she’s genuine and humble.
Rochette let me hold her medal. It was much bigger than I thought, larger in diameter than a hockey puck and about the same weight. The casual way Rochette holds her bronze, and lets others hold it, shows that she didn’t perform for a medal. That’s not what motivated her. She wanted to get to the Olympics, she wanted to honour her mom, she wanted to show her competitors she was a better jumper than them, she didn’t want to regret not competing. The medal meant little in comparison.
What stayed with me after her talk was the idea that she had invested 20,000 hours into a single cause. This staggering amount of time was spent honing her craft until she could perform and win at the world’s most elite level. While most of us will never compete at the Olympics, Rochette’s story begs an important question, “What do I invest most of my time in and is it worth the investment?” In other words, is the juice worth the squeeze?