Joannie Rochette Will Skate Despite Tragedy

Our hearts go out to Joannie Rochette, the 24-year-old figure skater whose mother died suddenly of a massive heart attack early Sunday morning in Vancouver.

Ronda Kaysen: Joannie, Canada‘s best hope for a figure-skating medal since Elizabeth Manley won silver in 1988, has decided to continue competing for a spot on the Olympic podium. On Sunday morning, she wiped away tears and practiced in the Pacific Coliseum with her father looking on.

Joannie’s dad — who was with her mom, Therese, when she collapsed — delivered the devastating news to his daughter. He waited until 6:30 in the morning to tell her, so she could have a few more precious hours of sleep.

Joannie isn’t speaking about her tragedy to reporters, and she’s moved into a private room in the Olympic Village. But her determination to continue despite this horrible loss is commendable.

If I were Joannie’s mom, I’d absolutely want my daughter to compete. The last thing I’d want for my child is for my death to derail her hard-fought dreams. But if I were in Joannie’s shoes (or should I say skates), I don’t know if I’d have the strength to continue.

I asked momlogic expert Dr. Michelle Golland for her thoughts on what it must be like for Joannie.

momlogic: What do you think Joannie is going through right now?

Michelle Golland: She’s in complete shock. [Her mom’s death was] completely unexpected. At this point, she’s basically surviving on the adrenaline from the trauma, which is probably numbing her a little.

ml: Does it help that she’s an Olympic athlete?

MG: The fact that she’s a superior athlete is going to help her get through. When you’re at that level of sports, you learn to compartmentalize extremely well, and she now has the further emotional drive to do it for her mother. That is a positive, in the sense that she will want to keep going and her mission probably at this point is to win the gold for her mom.

ml: Is continuing with the Games a good decision?

MG: Yes. Emotionally, the amount of regret Joannie would feel if she hadn’t competed would probably be worse. One way to get through the trauma is the idea that this is what her mom would have wanted. And I can guarantee that that’s what Joannie’s father would want her to do, too.

ml: Joannie’s grief is so public: The whole world is watching her right now. What impact will that have on her?

MG: The amount of love and healing from the world that will be coming toward her is going to be very powerful for her, and that’s an upside. That’s going to be very healing for her.

ml: Her father was watching her practice Sunday morning, with tears running down his face. What is he going through right now?

MG: He is devastated. He’s lost his wife. He’s watching his daughter skate with enormous courage. So those tears must be mixed with enormous sadness and pride. He and Therese, as a couple, sacrificed to get their daughter to this point.

ml: If Joannie wins, how can she enjoy her tremendous success without it being totally overshadowed by the loss of her mom?

MG: It will forever be bittersweet, of course. But just how bitter and how sweet will depend on how much she manages it. As an Olympian — as someone who will be able to command the stage and have influence — she may create something in her mother’s honor. Female heart disease is the number-one killer of women. Maybe Joannie will create a campaign for women and heart disease. I’m sitting here thinking, “God, I hope she wins the gold.”

What if YOUR daughter was in this position? Would you want her to continue?

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Copyright 2013, Dr. Michelle Golland. All Rights Reserved.