Joannie Rochette has swapped her glamorous sequined costumes and skates for scrubs and comfortable shoes. The long hours she once trained on the ice, she now spends in an operating room.
The Olympic figure skating bronze medallist is in medical school at McGill University, and said there are plenty of parallels between the two formidable endeavours.
“It’s interesting because I always thought skating would be my life for as long as possible, but now I’m back at school, med school, and it’s very similar similar in that you need to do it every day, study every day, it’s the same type of discipline,” Rochette said. “Except the first two years, sitting in class was such a long time, I would fall asleep. It’s very different, it’s a different type of exhaustion, but I think I can take a lot from skating to my new life.”
The 32-year-old from Ile-Dupas, Que., was one of the biggest stories of the Vancouver Olympics, capturing figure skating bronze with a performance that tugged on Canada’s collective heart strings just days after her mom Therese died of a heart attack at age 55.
It was the last competitive skate of her illustrious career.
But Rochette hasn’t slowed down. She’s the honorary ambassador of this week’s Skate Canada International, the second stop on the ISU Grand Prix tour. She had to request a couple days’ break from school to attend.
Becoming a doctor was something Rochette had always dreamed of doing, but getting into medical school after a long athletic career wasn’t easy. Her application for pre-med at McGill included a letter from former coach Manon Perron, who outlined the focus and dedication required to be an Olympic medallist.
She did a “very stressful” year of pre-med and her performance was good enough to get into med school.
“It’s really exciting to know that I’ll have another life than skating, something else one day. But it’s also very humbling because you know when you’re good at something, and then you have to start from scratch,” Rochette said. “And yes, people recognize me and all that, but it doesn’t matter, in med school you still need to get the answers right on the exams.
“It’s been a rough first two years, and now I’m slowly getting used to it. And it’s awesome to go to bed at night feeling like you’ve learned so much, but yet you know so little, so it’s great to have that feeling.”
If there’s a drawback, it’s that the long days have wreaked havoc with her workout schedule. She hasn’t trained for skating in more than two years, but does yoga and tries to get to the gym with a friend when she can.
“It’s 12-hour days at the hospital, it’s really long, I’m doing obstetrics right now so it’s a lot of surgeries and C-sections, so you’re standing all day,” she said.
Rochette, who won silver at the 2009 world championships and was named The Canadian Press female athlete of the year for 2010, finds her studies rewarding. But “nothing will ever beat skating,” she said.
“Even in shows, when you finish performing the crowd claps, they’re all cheering for you. And you don’t get that in any other job. When you’re a performer I feel like it’s like the best job in the world,” she said.
“In medicine no-one will give me a round of applause if I give the right meds to someone, it’s just my job, right?” she added, with a chuckle.
While it’s been awhile since she glided gracefully over the ice, it doesn’t take much to transport her back.
“I still feel like I’m in transition, I still feel a skater,” she said. “I hear music and I still feel like I’m skating to it, I’m choreographing part of it, so that won’t ever leave.”