Thursday, 17 March 2016 10:49

Time well spent with one of my heroes

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Joannie Rochette is one of my heroes. The Canadian figure skater lost her mother to a heart attack during the 2010 Vancouver Games. 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 recently and afterwards I got to meet her.


This was a chance I had been waiting for since 2010.


During her talk, Rochette described the shock of losing her mother during the Olympics. At first, 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 Joannie to practices and competitions. And so Rochette decided to skate.


All told, Rochette estimates she had practiced for 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. Rochette grew up figure skating and it would be no exageration to say she dedicated her youth to becoming good enough to compete at the the Olympics. Keep in mind that the Olympic program in figure skating is four minutes long. She invested 20 000 hours for four minutes.


During 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. At the end, she breaks down and cries, as I’m sure many people watching at home did in 2010.


After her talk, a long line of people formed a queue 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 Rochette for giving such an inspiring performance in Vancouver and explained to her that she had inspired me to develop a project to honour my uncle’s life after 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. If anything, Rochette is genuine and humble.


Rochette let me hold he medal. It was much bigger than I thought, larger in diameter than a hockey puck and about the same weight. The 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 competiting. The medal meant little in comparaison.


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 story begs an important question, what do I invest most of my time in and is it worth the investment?




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Dominique Liboiron

Dominique Liboiron is a speaker, author, teacher, journalist and photographer. To raise awareness about heart disease and to honour the life of one of its victims, Liboiron canoed from Saskatchewan to New Orleans. He is the first person to undertake that journey. He enjoys outdoor sports such as camping, hunting, fly fishing and canoeing.