Just hours after losing her mother to a massive heart attack, six-time Canadian women's figure skating champion Joannie Rochette took to the ice for practice. Two day after her mother's death, Rochette competed in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. The world watched as the 24-year-old managed not only to survive, but to nail her performance, winning a bronze medal and becoming the first Canadian to earn a spot on the ladies' figure skating Olympic podium in more than 20 years.
"She always taught me to finish what you started," Rochette, now 25, recalled of her mother, Therese, who enrolled her in skating lessons as a way to make friends. "My first year skating, I was 4 years old, and I didn't like it. It was too cold out there. My mom said, 'OK, next year you can start something else but we've already paid for skating for this year, so you're going to finish.'"
Rochette not only finished, she thrived. And it was her mother who drove her to and from countless practices; who videotaped her on the ice so she could study her form; and who, along with husband Normand, a hockey coach, supported Joannie financially and emotionally.
Therese Rochette was a longtime heavy smoker and had gained weight in the years before her death at age 55. But she had never been diagnosed with heart disease -- the No. 1 killer of women. In fact, Joannie and her father had no idea Therese had been experiencing troubling symptoms until after she died, when they found a note in her purse listing blurry vision, left-shoulder numbness and several other warning signs. It's believed that the note was for an upcoming doctor's appointment.
To raise awareness among women about heart disease, the 2010 ESPY-nominated Rochette has partnered with the American Heart Association to serve as an official Go Red for Women volunteer. She's educated audiences about heart disease warning signs and healthy lifestyle changes, walked the runway at a Red Dress fashion show and performed in Skate for the Heart alongside fellow Olympians Sasha Cohen and Johnny Weir.
Now performing in Canada's Stars on Ice, Rochette said she plans to spend Mother's Day skating and chatting on the phone with her father and her grandmother -- "another wonderful woman I want to honor." For Rochette, the memory of Therese stays with her all the time. "I think about my mother every day, not just on Mother's Day," she said. "All of her teaching is what helped me get on the ice that day [at the Olympics]."