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Rochette sees positives in 2010 Olympic experience

Skater takes away memories of competing in Canada, winning bronze
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Joannie Rochette looks up to the heavens after her bronze-medal-winning free skate at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. -Getty Images

Nearly four years after losing her mother, Joannie Rochette still isn't sure how she managed to compete at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, much less win a bronze medal.

"I have no idea how I could skate," said Rochette, whose mother died of a heart attack Feb. 21, 2010, just two days before the ladies competition began. "But my body just knew how to skate from all of my training, and I guess I just gave it a try. I knew every beat, every note of my music, and I just did what I did in training.

"I knew I had to compete," Rochette added. "I knew I was at my peak, and I knew nothing I could do would ever bring my mother back."

Rochette's ability to rise up and perform in the wake of tragedy was one of the most moving stories of those Winter Games. She wasn't flawless, but she skated with passion and emotion. And when she finished her program, she waved to the crowd and then to the sky, in an homage to her mom.

"I really don't remember skating my short program," Rochette said. "And what I remember about my long program is the last minute. I was dying. I really gave it my all in the last minute."

Rochette has been able to forge ahead since Vancouver, but she certainly is a changed woman.

 "Vancouver definitely left me with a few scars," she added. "I don't want to relive that time because I don't know how I made it out. I was very lucky to have family, friends, my boyfriend and just such a good support team to help me."

Rochette will return to the Olympics next month, only this time as a broadcaster for Canada's CBC network -- although she did entertain the thought of coming back to competition for a short time. Last October, she skated in the Japan Open, an event she has entered every year since Vancouver, and toyed with the idea of making a run at Sochi.

"Of course, I wanted to have a better experience at the Olympics," said Rochette, who turned 28 on Jan. 13. "I actually did train with the assistant of my old coach (Manon Perron), who helped me for an hour a day. When I was training for the Olympics (in 2010), it was so intense and I was so fragile that I would break out in tears in practice. When I was training and thinking of Sochi, I felt so much lighter, and I actually was skating so much better."

In the end, she thought about what she wanted to gain from another Olympic experience and realized how fortunate she was to have competed in a Winter Games in her home country and earn a medal. For her, the decision not to compete in Sochi was not as much about what potential outcome she might have had but rather how she wanted to spend her time at this point in her life.

In the years since Vancouver, she has been able to travel quite extensively and has gotten involved in various charitable operations, including Right To Play, an organization founded by Olympic gold medalist speed skater Johann Olav Koss. The goal of Right To Play is help educate and empower children through sports, and Rochette has traveled as far away as Rwanda to help with the group's efforts. She said she hopes to make a return trip to Africa, perhaps to Kenya and Tanzania.

Closer to home, she has aided in fundraising efforts with the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, a program she became involved with following her mother's death.

She has also found time to go skydiving for a TV show ("It was scary, but a good scary," she said) and played the voice role for a French-Canadian character named "Rochelle" in the Disney movie Planes.

Rochette continues to skate, though she doesn't have to train with the added pressure of competing in the Olympics; she has found solace in the fact that she can continue to do tours and shows. Following the Winter Games in Sochi, Rochette will tour with Stars on Ice in Japan and then in venues across Canada.

She attended the Canadian championships as an athlete ambassador and now is preparing for her broadcasting duties in Sochi. She's especially interested to see how the team competition unfolds.

"I love the idea of a team event," Rochette said. "And I think maybe it will push other countries to be even stronger and grow the sport."