|BARBARA Joannie, how did your Olympic dream begin?
JOANNIE My father was a hockey coach in a small Quebec farming town of 700. He started taking me to the ice rink to skate at 22 months. Because I was an only child, my mom wanted me to meet and play with other kids, so I was at the rink skating two days a week.
I didn’t realise what figure skating really was until I saw the Lillehammer Games on TV in 1994, when I was 8 years old. Seeing what a real skater could do and winning medals, I thought, “Wow, I want to be like that! I’m going to give everything I have to get there. When I’m at the rink, I’m not going to talk to the other kids; I’ll keep working. I’ll practise my jumps waiting for the school bus and in the schoolyard at recreation time. It will get better and better.”
Of course, I wanted to be at the Olympics, but I’m also a realistic person and set small goals. First to the Quebec games, and then making the Quebec team to go to the Nationals. Every year, a little bigger goal and before I noticed, I was 15 years old. The next year was the 2002 Olympic trials, I came in third at 16; I was in Olympic contention position. 2006 in Torino, I was 20 and knew I had a shot. I’ve been training for these Olympics both physically and mentally all my life.
BARBARA It’s amazing how you set your goal so young. You’ve accomplished so much in your first 23 years; I can only imagine what you’ll create for the rest of your life. You certainly have will.
JOANNIE This comes from my mom. I think every kid has the potential to reach their dreams if they work for it. Although, I think human nature wants things to come easy. My mom was good at giving me drive in life; the excitement to compete, to want to be the best. Even when I lost a competition she would find a way to build me up, and that made me stronger. I have to thank her for that. She’s not competitive herself, but she wanted the best for me. And I always felt that in a good way.
Even at school, if I came home with 98% my mom would say, “Where did you lose those two points?” It was always more and more but I came to like it; it didn’t put me down. Some parents put too much pressure on the kids and put them down. But I was hard on me too, and I like it that way. I must like suffering (she giggles). A figure skater has a lot of suffering, training for hours in a cold rink to get those jumps.
Another tough part was asking myself what I wanted in life. I knew at around 16 years old that it was possible for me to be in the Olympics. It was very clear in my mind and I never looked back. But before that I sometimes wondered, “Is it all worth it? Am I going to make it?” You don’t want to spend a lot of effort for something you won’t achieve. Yet that’s also part of what’s beautiful – getting to the place of being sure about it.
The Olympics bring a lot of pressure, but I give everything I have. I’ll step on the ice in Vancouver knowing that I’ve done everything possible to be on top of the podium. Then whatever the outcome I have no regret; that’s important for me. It’s been 20 years of my parents’ sacrificing – my mom going out to work; my dad working night shifts and overtime; all for me to skate. My mom would pick me up after school, throw my skates in the car and off to training. At night she would study with me while I was taking a bath. It was crazy. She put everything in me. It was hard for the family to keep our life all together but my mom was strong. I really admire her. Hopefully, I will be like her one day.
BARBARA Joannie, it sounds like you are in many ways. You are strong, to leave home at 12, to be away from your parents. Your parents must be very proud.
JOANNIE I think so. We kind of did it together.
BARBARA I hope they’re proud of themselves too. They did a lot so you could skate and this is also their big reward.
JOANNIE When you’re young, you don’t notice. I didn’t understand then but it must have been hard for my mom to say ‘no’ to me. She probably wanted me to go to the parties my friends were going to and enjoy myself but I’m really happy she kept me focused on what I wanted. She reminded me of my dream.
BARBARA Will your parents be in Vancouver?
JOANNIE Yes. I want them to be there so much, to share this with them. They weren’t sure if they were going to make it, but I bought their plane tickets. Vancouver is going to be great for them; it will be their first visit. They came to Torino for four days when I was performing. It was funny because my mother was jet-lagged. It was her first time travelling so far.
BARBARA They'll enjoy Vancouver; you'll have to make sure they stay healthy.
JOANNIE Yes, one of my sponsors is Cold-FX so I will give them some. Last year during a very rough European tour, I took two a day and didn't get sick.
We do this six-day tour every year, travelling six hours a day by school bus through Germany, northern Italy, Austria and Switzerland.
BARBARA Joannie, what has helped you set your goals?
JOANNIE My mom really believes in visualisation. When I was young she would say, “If you can see it, it can happen.” I am an only child. My mom couldn’t have more kids, she wasn’t even supposed to have me. She told me, “I had you because I believed it and visualised for you every day.” She believed it so much, she knows that’s why I was born. When I got the book The
Secret, I decided to be open when I read it. After all, my mom encouraged me to think that way and that has made a huge difference in my life.
When I do something it has a rational reason. There was some stuff I really liked in the book and I took what worked for me. Not being shy and saying my goals out loud was the big thing I took from the book. The first question reporters ask me each season is, “Okay, Joannie, what’s your goal this year?” Usually I’d say, “I want to do my best. I want to be happy. I want to skate well.” Even though my goal was to win, I wouldn’t say it out loud. But this year I said, “I want to be on the world podium this year. I deserve it. I’m one of the best in the world. I really believe it.” Even my coach was stunned I said this out loud!
No matter how much people believe in you, if YOU don’t believe in YOU it won’t come out. It was important for me to say I want and deserve to be at the top of the Olympic podium. You know, if I skate my best and the judges put me in fourth place, this will be MY podium. Don’t be ashamed to aim to be the best, there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing cocky about knowing what you want.
BARBARA Are you at a place to say which part of the podium?
JOANNIE Absolutely! The highest part of the podium – always ‘go for the gold’. You don’t say, “Oh, I’m going for bronze”. You want to bring home the gold. And, every day I train to be the Olympic champion.
There’s so much pressure on four short minutes that mean so much to your life. You have to be able to see the bigger picture, the way it all fits together. If you become the Olympic champion and didn’t enjoy the 20 years you put into it, the gold medal won’t mean a thing. It means so much to me. It really has been a family affair. Even my grandmother, who died five or six years ago, would always come to my competitions. Our family would make a weekend of it, all of us in a hotel room. We had so much fun. These are very special memories.
BARBARA For the past four years you’ve skated in Stars on Ice; has this been hard with your schedule?
JOANNIE It’s inspiring for me to be skating with my idols: Kurt Browning, Jamie Salé, David Pelletier, Sasha Cohen, Jennifer Robinson and Jeffrey Buttle; they’re all champions. A lot of skaters don’t want to do shows while they’re competing, but it’s the opposite for me. It’s helped me grow as a competitive skater. I’ve been shy and it’s helped me break that shell. The show is harder; there’s no main lighting, only a follow spot so you can barely see. You do triple jumps in the dark on bad ice, not seeing anything; it’s training in the hardest conditions. Competitions are much easier: you have good light and quality, big ice. It’s easier for me to perform for an audience now.
BARBARA Is Stars on Ice in your future?
JOANNIE For sure. I want to keep doing shows as long as I can. It’s a lot of fun. What’s hard is I miss home and can’t have a ‘normal’ life, like going to school. But I won’t be doing it all my life, so I want to do it as long as I can and then move on.
BARBARA How do you fit your studies into your schedule? Even in these last few months you’ve traveled from China, to the World's in L.A., and then back here for Skate Canada.
JOANNIE Right now I am taking time off from school; my focus is on the Games. I wanted to do Med school,
but with skating I decided to get a four-year health-related Bachelor's diploma. A personal goal outside
of skating is to get a degree, even if I’m 40 or 50. I’ve
always been interested in chemistry, biology, and those things. I’m studying natural sciences and health. When I finish skating I want to go to school to have a new life challenge completely different from skating.
BARBARA You had the opportunity to travel to Peru with World Vision. What was that experience like for you?
JOANNIE Peru was so good. I’m glad I got to see it. When they first asked me I was nervous; my English isn’t so good. I didn’t understand a lot and couldn’t speak well. I was mixing my French with a Spanish accent! Jennifer Robinson traveled with World Vision and told me to do it if I had the chance. It really changed me. Whenever I have a bad day, I remember the people and the way they live.
BARBARA A very different experience, spending time with people who have less than we do.
JOANNIE They’re very warm people and they welcomed us into their homes. One time a lady took my arm and brought us to her house. She started to cry because she didn’t have much to offer, just a tree stump on a dirt floor to sit on. She said “I’m sorry my house is not nice enough for you.” That made me cry. I didn’t realise the people know our life is easier, that they see images on TV. That was hard.
They build their own houses, wash their clothes in the river and only have the basic needs. They seem happy but they do need help. World Vision is good because they spend the money they raise on materials to help the people improve their productivity. A sprinkler system was built for irrigation and instead of watering crops by hand, now they can do other work while the land is being irrigated.
They’re always together with their family, working in the fields or house – that’s nice. Here we get so busy or only think of ourselves that we don’t take time for our family. Sometimes I’m so busy, or travelling, I barely have time to phone my mom to ask her how her day was. Now I make sure I call her every day to tell her I love her. That’s very important to me.
BARBARA What’s one thing you’d like to share with other women, in terms of living life?
JOANNIE It’s important to have your own goals, to be independent. I’m not saying this from a feminist point of view. My grandmother’s generation was different; she would never go out alone and always did things with my grandfather. I think my mom wishes she was more independent, so she taught me to be strong and to work hard. Also, you need to believe that you can do whatever you want. That everything is possible.
Women have jobs today that only men did in the past, and the opposite is true too; some men stay home and take care of the kids. I think that’s cool.
BARBARA Is there anything you would change in your world?
JOANNIE Honestly, I wouldn’t change anything; there were parts of my life that I didn’t like or were hard to go through but they led me to where I am now and I love my life. It could be better, but it could be worse. Every time something bad happened, I worked harder to get through it and that made me more proud when I finally got it. In the past, I was the person who
always wanted more. I was never satisfied. It’s important to love all parts of your life, who you are and what you do. There isn’t anything I would change from my past, present or future. I love my life!
BARBARA Joannie, with your attitude and conviction I know you’ll be on top of the podium. We’ll all be cheering for you! H&L