|NATHALIE In the 2004 Athens games, being the
Assistant Chef de Mission for Dave Bedford brought me back into the Olympic family without being an athlete. Learning the organising side of the Olympics was eye-opening: seeing how much work, effort and passion goes on behind the scenes so our athletes can do their best. This inspired me to apply as 2010 Chef de Mission, especially since the games are here. From the time our Canadian team enters the filled stadium of 52,000 spectators, mostly Canadians, cheering and going nuts, to the closing ceremony, it will be the most vibrant, alive experience ever. This team has so much potential to be number one in overall country ranking. I’m absolutely thrilled to have been selected and over-the-top to live this with our team.
BARBARA Do you get to walk in with them?NATHALIE Yes. I’m honoured to walk behind the flag bearer. Not only am I the official spokes-person for the Olympic team, I’m one of the leaders that
organises the 220 people whose job is to ensure each
of our athletes gets their greatest chance to perform their best. Being part of a home team comes with extra distractions. So the behind-the-scenes team is in crisis management mode to find solutions before a problem arises, but it can be the difference between winning or not. As Chef I want to make sure we’ve covered everything so our athletes are in their perfect mental zone. They have the home field advantage. It’s not a burden but we don’t want it to be a preoccupation.
BARBARA Your most memorable Olympic moments?
NATHALIE Walking into the stadium of the opening ceremony at the Calgary Olympics as a member of the home country team. Still when I talk about it, more than 20 years later, I get goose bumps. Then, of course winning the gold medal and carrying the flag at the closing ceremony in the ’92 Albertville games, I was on a
cloud for months; I wanted this for so many years.
BARBARA You have a new passion – Latin dance – and it’s developed a brand new path for you.
NATHALIE Yes, it was quite a surprise to me. I was a celebrity guest on a Quebec TV show ‘Le Match des Étoiles’, much like ‘Dancing with the Stars’. I fell in love with the challenge of learning choreography in my body and mind, trying to move gracefully and look half decent beside professional dancers. It was more physically challenging than I ever thought dance could be – it
was a hell of a workout. I loved that the muscles,
cardio and flexibility are all worked on in dance.
I became friends with the choreographer, Uriel Arreguin, who started teaching Cardio Dance at the Montreal fitness club where I work. The members loved it right away. My new love of dance and knowledge of fitness along with Uriel’s expertise in teaching dance as an exercise, led to us produce six DVDs. The series incorporates the basic ‘Hi-Lo’ for people with restrictions such as arthritis, to ‘Cardio Latino II’, higher impact and more of a challenge for people really into fitness.
BARBARA As a teenager you started speed skating to meet the boys across the street?
NATHALIE When I was 12, we lived across from an ice rink. My best girlfriend and I would go and watch our friends (boys) play hockey. We saw the speed skating and thought it looked cool. This was way before Gaétan Boucher put the sport on the map. It gave us a good reason to be there; it was a very affordable sport not like hockey or figure skating, so we signed up.
BARBARA How did the sport win you over?
NATHALIE In the beginning it was the friendship and travel. We had such fun and I loved going away to compete; I was doing something special. Each weekend after we returned I’d happily share my stories from Lake Placid, Ottawa or Chicoutimi. Of course, as I went up the ranks in speed skating the further I’d travel as I advanced to world competitions. To me, the feeling of the speed was amazing and I wasn’t going very fast yet. I wasn’t a particularly gifted athlete; it didn’t come naturally and it took time to develop my ability.
Luckily, from the beginning, the coach valued
effort and persistence, being dedicated and working hard, just as much as performance. If I hadn’t felt valued and important as a kid in my sport, I probably wouldn’t have stayed. But the coach made me feel as special as kids better than me. His philosophy was that everybody can go somewhere in the sport, it’s a question of time and effort. Although this may not have been totally true, I believed it and thought, “I can get somewhere.” I got hooked on working at being better, to stop losing. Even more than appreciating the victory, I hated losing – a source of motivation.
BARBARA Do you apply that philosophy to all you do?
NATHALIE To survive and evolve in sports is to accept that you don`t win all the time; you`ve got to take pride in the process and value daily that you’re being the best you can. It took me 17 years to be a world champion. I had a lot of losses before I actually won. Then I realised I was putting all my eggs in the competition and needed to step back and appreciate the process. This is the lesson from speed skating I apply to everyday life. Sports are black or white: when you’re good, you know you’re good. The stopwatch lets you know you’re under the world record. Real life isn’t black or white, it’s greyer. Putting value into trying to be really good, making the effort to apply myself and taking the time to be the best in all I do is what I took from speed skating.
BARBARA Do you teach this to your children?NATHALIE They do gymnastics and like speed skating it’s positive fuel. For example: they try to do a cartwheel and can’t; they keep trying and suddenly they do a full cartwheel. Now they know they can do it. That’s very rewarding. It teaches them if you keep
trying then you’ll succeed. I don’t care if they become gymnasts; they’re learning to apply themselves.
BARBARA You’re using your coach’s philosophy.
NATHALIE I think so. I believe it’s important to have some challenges, that they may not succeed right away. This generation is into instant gratification, to get everything easily. But it’s really important for them to learn to work for something and that it’s not always easy. They may not get the job they want right away, or the salary – it won’t always be instant and perfect.
BARBARA So how does Nathalie get into the zone every day?
NATHALIE It’s about attitude, controlling what I can, and letting go of what I can’t; being positive no matter what. Waking up when it’s raining, and knowing it’s raining for everyone and it doesn’t really matter. I enjoy everything or I fix the things I don’t like as much as I can. I won’t whine for 10 years that I don’t like my job; I’ll change jobs. I’m in control of my happiness.
BARBARA Is this your personal motto?
NATHALIE My mother taught us we’ll get where we want by working hard and being happy doing it. Unfortunately, the sub message was: ‘it’s hard’. Things seemed to take longer because we thought it would be harder. If her philosophy had been, “We’re happy, we’re going to work hard and it’s going to be easy,” then it might have been easier.
BARBARA What lesson made you grow the most? NATHALIE Not succeeding when I wanted it. It took so long for me to become world champion, I was less talented and had to work at it. But it made me who I am today, so it was actually the nicest. If I had won right away, it wouldn’t have meant so much, I would not have become a fighter and as strong, pigheaded – in a positive way – the person that I am today.
BARBARA What must you have daily?
NATHALIE I must hear “Mommy” every day – I love that. It depends how it’s said, though! My kids make my sun shine every day. An athlete is a self-centred
experience; being a Mom is totally the opposite. I needed that balance in my life. It’s a big change of philosophy and I could not – don’t want to – spend a day without, “Hi Maman, comment ça va?” (Hi Mommy, how are you?) with a big hug and kisses. They’re still at the age where I get hugs and kisses, so I want to get as much as I can.
BARBARA What’s moved you the most emotionally in your life?
NATHALIE Adopting my children has been very moving. First learning you can’t have kids, and then the long process of adoption is quite something. I don’t think you love them more, I think you appreciate the blessing that you’re able to have children in your life.
BARBARA What would people be surprised to learn about you?
NATHALIE That I have severe osteoarthritis which is very painful and limiting although I function very well with it.
BARBARA You were actually diagnosed before you went to the Olympics.
NATHALIE Yes. I’ve had knee problems all my life. As a teenager I grew too fast. Then, in the ‘80s, training followed the quantity-based East German and American systems. We did too much with heavy weights, plyometrics and running, which affected my knees throughout my career. It was manageable, except for the last few years. When I was still skating, it was painful and they would sometimes swell. I’d get injections or take an anti-inflammatory. But because I was so strong and muscular, the joints had support. I have more pain now than when I was skating because I don’t have the muscular support. It’s now permanent osteoarthritis. Sometimes when I stand up, the first few steps are difficult – I look like an 85 year-old. When my muscles warm up, it’s better.
Today I use a pain management program that’s a combination of staying fit and taking Celebrex. I have to move regularly, doing things that make sense for me. So a lot of dance classes, cardio dance mainly without too much kicking or jumping too high, three or four times a week. I love my new passion. It’s not hard and doesn’t damage my knees more. I also walk, bike a bit and stretch. Staying happy is very important to how I feel physically.
BARBARA As a spokesperson for The Arthritis Society, what message would you like to give to people with arthritis?
NATHALIE The worst thing you can do is stop moving. It’s a ‘catch 22’: the less you move the less muscle you have to support joints. The stiffer the joints become, the harder it is to move. Pain in your muscle isn’t a problem, but address the pain in your joints that doesn’t go away. Make sensible choices. If you have knee problems, dance or swim, don’t play tennis. A lot of people do things they hate, thinking they may eventually love it. They don’t, so they constantly stop and start that activity. If they tried something different, they’d have success. Take walking: you can walk by yourself, with your dog, with music, or in a group. Try challenging yourself to be faster. In a group it’s social; trekking in a forest is totally different again. Choose activities that are fun in the moment, not just for results.
BARBARA With your very diverse life and many obligations, including family, how do you maintain perspective?
NATHALIE Well, when you have kids, they become the priority. I’m lucky I’m not a workaholic. I love what I do but there has to be an end to the work day. I really love my second shift, the ‘Mommy shift’. When we adopted our first daughter I decided I only wanted to work part time because I wanted to be a ‘gymnastics Mom’, and to be in our pool with them. Spending time with them is my priority. The girls are 7 1⁄2 and six and they each do 8 hours of gymnastics a week. My husband changed his career three years ago from a fitness instructor to a teacher. His new work schedule makes our family life much easier.
BARBARA What difference do you want to make in the world?
NATHALIE I don’t have big aspirations like that. I want to influence the people I know and that know me. If I inspire people outside that, I’m very happy, but I don’t have an aspiration of being important to everyone.
BARBARA I’m picking up humbleness, Nathalie.
NATHALIE Maybe. I know where I come from and I don’t think people who finish number one in the world are any
better than people serving breakfast. If you serve breakfast with a smile, you are happy and the people eating that breakfast are happy because they connected with you that day. It’s just as big a deal as watching someone in the Olympics and being proud they won a medal. Both are relevant.
BARBARA What advice do you have for anyone with aspirations and dreams?
NATHALIE It’s the road you travelled to reach your goal that you remember, the process. It’s important to have aspirations and passion, and it’s really important to take pride in the whole process because you don’t know where the journey will end for you.
In sports it can be heartbreaking because there’s only room for one person on top of the podium. It doesn’t mean the other 35 in that competition, or the other 500 in the process, aren’t good. If the end result is the most
important thing, there would be a lot more unhappy people than happy people. The everyday moments are our real souvenirs. Have passion in life, invest in that, no matter if it’s your work or a hobby. Spend time on your passions, love them and life will bring rewards. H&L