In the hours since Canada’s Joannie Rochette won the bronze medal in the ladies’ figure skating competition at the Vancouver Olympics, the 24-year-old, whose mother died of a heart attack Sunday has been navigating a maze of mixed emotions.
“I miss my mom,” Rochette, who is skating in Saturday’s exhibition of Olympic champions, told PEOPLE on Friday. “But I want to enjoy the moment. I’m happy with what I accomplished, but it’s tragic she wasn’t here to see it. But wherever she is right now, she’s smiling at me.”
Rochette also said she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from skating fans around the world. Calls came in from American speed skater Dan Jansen, who lost his sister the morning before he competed in the 1988 Calgary Olympics, and from Canadian singer Céline Dion.
“Céline Dion was my mother’s favorite singer,” says Rochette, who be skating to Dion’s “Vole” on Saturday.
Mother’s Funeral Plans Pending
Rochette also plans on marching in Sunday’s closing ceremonies before departing to her hometown of Ile Dupas, Canada, near Montreal, where the body of her mother, Therese, 55, was flown home Friday.
“I am going to visit with my grandparents, and then we will decide with my father on funeral plans,” says Rochette, an only child. The family is anticipating a service will be held sometime next week . Her father, Normand, is holding up well, “being strong for me,” she says.
Despite her mother’s untimely death, Rochette didn’t hedge when officials asked if she still wanted to compete. She feels the same about finishing her Olympic experience. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I want to enjoy it, though it’s not the way I dreamt about it. But my mother would want me to,” she says.
Describing her mother as her biggest fan and advisor, Rochette recalls that she “would come to where I trained once a week and comment on everything I did and helped me make sure I was reaching my goals. She was tough on me but when I needed support, she was always there.”
Even last week, Rochette kept near her a photo of her mother, smiling and sporting a Canadian team jacket. The devoted daughter also saved Therese’s final phone message, which Rochette says she listened to for inspiration all week, after practices and before she competed.
“She was excited to be here,” Rochette says. “And I kept her message because it was soothing to hear her voice. We spoke all the time and she was always helpful, and in our last conversation I told her I had really good practices Saturday and she called back and said, ‘I know you can do it, and you will be on the podium.’ ”
Mom was right.