Courage is…: Joannie Rochette & Petra Majdič

The greatest achievement of this 2010 Winter Olympic games wasn’t Canada’s first Gold medal, or its last, or any other Gold or Silver medal awarded in the Olympics. The two most courageous performances in the Olympics netted Bronze. One was a battle as much with emotional trauma as with any other competitor. The other was a battle through serious injury, repeated several times over.

On February 26 it was announced that Petra Majdič and Joannie Rochette are the two Olympians to receive the prestigious Terry Fox Award, the purpose of which is to honour an Olympian who touched the world with courage, humility and extraordinary athletic abilities at the 2010 Games.

I’d forgotten about this award when I began this post. In fact, all I knew when I started looking for a song to post was that I wanted to talk about courage. I started with Joannie, then recalled Petra…then rediscovered the award while researching her.

Rochette’s mother died suddenly, just two days before competition. Ranked fifth in the world entering the Olympics, she skated a near-perfect short program and a long program good enough to secure the Bronze, unable to hold back the tears at the end of either performance.

Today, this is not a bronze. This is a gold with little diamonds on it.

~ Petra Majdič

During a warmup for the 1.7km Classic Sprint competition, Majdič — the odds-on gold medal favourite — skied off the nordic course into a 10m gully, crashing hard into the rocks below. She skied through a qualifying heat, ending in a heap of pain at the finish line, having just qualified. There were 3 more heats that day and at the end of each, she lay just beyond the finish line, sprawled in agony. At the end of the last, the final heat, only two competitors had crossed ahead of her. It was only after this that the extent of her injuries were revelealed: several broken ribs and a pneumothorax. She accepted the Bronze later that day with a chest tube to relieve the pressure.

I am honoured to have witnessed these performances, live on television. Honoured, moved, inspired.
Courage is…
   when you’re afraid
      but you keep on moving

Courage is…
   when you’re in pain
      but you keep on living

~ The Strange Familiar

This song, Courage Is…, isn’t a great piece of music. Its lyrics are a little more direct, more on-the-nose than I normally like. And yet, the words and music speak truthfully and simply. Not just about the courage displayed by a couple of elite athletes confronting emotional and physical hardships, but by the courage displayed daily, by all of us, as we confront the hardships of living, and convert them into the joys of life. Remember, too, that it’s not always about winning the gold. Any display of courage is a gold medal with little diamonds on it.

3 Responses to “Courage is…: Joannie Rochette & Petra Majdič”

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  1. Gary says:

    Enjoyed reading this post, Peter. I wasn’t aware of the story behind both those two athletes. Great courage indeed. The Olympics are full of stories like that. I recall at a past Olympics the feat of a Japanese gymnast who, knowing he had a broken bone in his leg, still performed on the roman rings, and still executed a stupendous somersault, landing perfectly. Can you imagine the pressure on his leg? I winced just writing about it! I think he won gold. But, as you say, it isn’t just the winners that display courage, they all do – and many do in our everyday lives. And what about the lead man on the Dutch toboggan team who declined to race following the death of the Georgian luger, saying he had lost his nerve; that too is courage.

  2. Peter says:

    Thanks, Gary. [smile]

    I’ll always remember that gymnastic moment. He winced on landing, his body wilting ever-so slightly, before he found his resolve and stood tall and proud. Awe inspiring, that was.

    I’ve written more about that notion of everyday, unlikely heroes…just posted it, as a matter of fact…

    Such stories are how we remind ourselves of the possibilities of our humanity. The Olympics are among the very best showcases of our greatest possibilities. We need such sources of inspiration, enough that the value of these events generally outweighs the costs, fiscal and otherwise, of staging them.

  3. Gary says:

    ..and what about the ‘Snow Leopard’? That’s the Olympic spirit right there.

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