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Joannie Rochette on Women’s Heart Health

Joannie Rochette
Joannie Rochette
Olympic figure skating medallist, and Heart & Stroke spokesperson Joannie Rochette. Photo: Luc Robitaille, for Heart & Stroke.

Joannie Rochette’s connection to heart disease and stroke began tragically in 2010. Just two days before she captured a bronze medal in figure skating at the Vancouver Olympics, her mother, Thérèse, died of a heart attack. Now, the Olympian is volunteering as Honorary Chair of Heart & Stroke Canvass. She’s speaking out about her experience and her hopes for empowering more women to make their heart health a priority.

Mediaplanet: Tell us about your beginnings as a figure skater and the role your mom played in your career.

Joannie Rochette: I started skating when I was around two years old. It was just for fun back then. I’m from a very small town in Quebec and I learned to skate on the St. Lawrence River with my whole family. It was something that I always did with my mom. She would come in the stands and watch me skate for almost every practice. She was there every step of the way.

Just as your career was peaking at the 2010 Olympics, you lost your mom. Did you have any warning?

I was 24 years old when my mother passed away. She was 55. My mom wasn’t seeing a cardiologist or anything like that. It’s something that took me and my family totally by surprise — we didn’t see it coming. In my mind, heart disease was an old man’s disease. I didn’t think of my mom as being at risk. But now when I think back on it, she was a heavy smoker, wasn’t eating very healthy, and she was stressed. She was always worrying about me for the Olympics also. Looking back, knowing what I know now, maybe I could have seen it coming a little bit more.

What influence did your mom have on your life? 

My mom was my best friend, my psychologist, my secretary, and she took care of my finances. When she passed away, that’s when I really appreciated everything that she did for me. Skating was never exactly the same without her. At the same time, when I’m on the ice, that’s when I feel closest to her. I know I would not have come this far in skating and in life without her. She raised me to be tough and to overcome adversity and anything that’s being thrown at you in life.

Why do you think so many women don’t consider themselves at risk for heart disease and stroke?

Women often don’t put themselves first. My mom was definitely like that. She’d put my dad and me first. After my mom passed away, we found a piece of paper in her wallet that outlined some of the symptoms she was experiencing. She had never talked to us about them. She had pain in her left shoulder, numbness in her hands, blurry vision, and she was tired all the time. When I saw that piece of paper, I felt guilty for not noticing it sooner. I was so busy training for the Olympics. The focus was on me at that time. I think that’s also part of the reason that she didn’t speak up.

What would you tell women about the importance of having a healthy lifestyle?

Often, heart disease is not a disease that happens overnight. That’s why it’s so important for women to be aware of the symptoms and that if they experience them, to talk about them with a doctor.

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