It's everyone's worst nightmare, having your mom pass away unexpectedly without being able to say goodbye. For Joannie Rochette, she had to live through this immense pain, while also competing at the Olympics.
At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the Canadian figure skater was poised to make some noise on the international stage. Having won the silver medal in 2009, Rochette was the favorite to win gold at the Winter Games.
Sadly, two days before her medal performance, Rochette's mother, Therese, died of a massive heart attack at the apartment where she was staying. Rochette's father, Normand, found his wife passed out and tried to revive her, but it didn't work. She was taken to the hospital where she was later pronounced dead.
At just 24 years old, Joannie had a decision to make, and it wasn't going to be easy.
"I kind of told my coach the skating federation that I would do the competition, probably 10 minutes after I heard the news that my mom had passed," Rochette recalled in an interview. "That was probably a little bit quick, and even to be honest when I said it, I didn't even know if I could do it, if I had it in me."
David Baden, Joannie's coach, spoke with media outlets after the passing of Therese, letting them know his client would not be speaking publicly until after the games ended.
"She's so close to her mother, I think she doesn't even entertain not skating," Baden said. "She's a tough fighter. It's got to be hard to switch gears and say no to [the Olympics]. This is what she has been training for all these years. She'll be trying to fulfill the goal they had together."
Rochette received the support of the entire country, plus many others, as she made the decision to put her skates on and compete for a medal, just two days after her mother had died so unexpectedly.
Her performance was something so filled with emotion, it's hard to fathom how she managed to compete. You could tell from the moment she stepped on the ice that she was doing this for her mom.
Rochette ended up winning the bronze medal, becoming the first Canadian to win a singles figure skating medal at the Olympics since 1988.
Afterwards, Rochette spoke about her emotional journey.
"A lot of people are wondering how I can do all this right now," she said. "And it is really tough. But my job is not a 9-to-5 job. I cannot leave and come back whenever I want. It's different. And right now, I feel like skating. Because that's where I feel the most alive. It's going to be hard at times, but I'm going to have a good support group around me. To get busy and get back into a normal daily routine is really good for me. And when things like that happen, you have the choice to either stay at home or just get up and try to do something. And I choose that option because that's the kind of person I was raised to be."
Joannie said that even though her mom is gone, Therese is still with her in spirit.
"When I'm doing shows, I do feel closer to her. I can hear her voice; I can hear her comments on my skating. She was very tough on me, but I can hear her," she said.
Now, 8 years later, Rochette is enrolled in medical school in Canada. She says the death of her mother still resonates with the people she meets.
“Sometimes people stop me in the street and they offer me their condolences for what happened in 2010. Even though it’s been so long, in my head and theirs, it’s still very fresh,” she told CTV News. “I was always interested in the human body and being an athlete, trying to understand how things work. And medicine in particular, I think is a very great challenge."