Joannie Rochette, our highest hopes for a Canadian Olympic medal in women’s skating, did a beautiful performance in the short skate even after learning that her mother died unexpectedly, yesterday.

Hers was not the most skillful performance, it was not the highest score, but it was definitely the most poignant.

When she got ready to begin, there was no hint of tragedy to her, but as soon as the last triple flip and twirl was accomplished and she was in her finishing pose, she burst into tears.

Her fascade crumbled, and it brought tears to my eyes.

What would it be like to be in a field where decades of training and competition ride on one night? What would it be like to then lose the dearest person in the world, the night before?

What would it be like to be in a field where it doesn’t matter how many triple lutzes, axels and sow cows you land in training? If you can’t do it in competition it’s like they didn’t happen.

I’m glad I’m in a field that involves gentle increments, introspection and no great athletic ability.

But when I have a breakthrough, when an aspect of character is revealed to me that had hitherto remained hidden, it feels like a podium moment. Unfortunately the only audience is me.

It reminds me of this imax movie I saw with my family at the science centre. It was called Wired to Win and featured the gruelling trials of the tour de France but more importantly it talked about how the brain learns how to do things. Apparently the first time you do something is the hardest because your brain is creating new pathways in terms of synapse firings among the neurons.

The second time you do the same thing is so much easier because the brain already kind of knows the way. The synapses fire a bit reluctantly but faster than the first time. The third and fourth, etc. gets even easier because your brain has been there so many times.

And voila! The old adage: Practice makes perfect.

A skater’s perfection is largely mechanical. Oh nerves and psychological factors play into it, but their muscles have been trained to complete certain movements, and they remember and the brain remembers.

Perhaps it’s not unlike a storytelling presentation that you’ve completed a thousand times or an actor playing in a role on stage a hundred times.

It gets to the point now that I can be doing my The Roses in My Carpets presentation while I’m giving myself stage directions: smile at this side, you’ve been ignoring them, fix the intonation on that line, don’t forget the next page, etc. etc.

Unfortunately that doesn’t work so much for writing. No writer wants to repeat themselves.

Each story I attempt requires a brand new pathway in my head. That’s why it never gets any easier.

This is also why so many authors become formulaic after a while. It’s easier to stick to the tried and true.

I think when it comes to monumental events like the olympics though, the mental pressure takes an added toll.

It’s probably why most people have to work up to a big win in the olympics.

Add to that, the loss of a mother…and it’s hard to fathom what Joannie Rochette went through.

It would be enough to bring on an anxiety attack.

There was one time that I actually felt like I was beginning to have an anxiety attack. I found my breath coming in shallow gasps and it felt like my heart was racing.

It came about as a result of some sort of commitment I’d made.

Something immediately made me tell myself to stop! Just stop. Don’t ‘go’ there!

I calmed my breathing and I took a step back.

They say stress comes from expectations exceeding your ability to do things.

This is actually a place where my faith really helps me.

One of the seven articles of faith is called ‘qadr of Allah’ which means the ‘plan of God’. Nothing can happen except that God has already decreed it.

And it says in the Quran that if the whole world were to get together and try to benefit you with something they could not do so except with something that God had already decreed for you, and if the whole world were to get together to try to harm you they could not do so except with something that God has already decreed for you.

Some people might find this a limiting concept, but I have actually found it to be very comforting.

When I couldn’t sleep the night before my big address in Denmark, I kept telling  myself that the outcome was already written. Whether I fell on my face or was a huge success was already predetermined, all I had to do was go through the motions. Do my ‘best’.

And whenever the anxiety starts bubbling up in me, I tell myself again that the result is already written. There really are no ‘wrong’ turns. And there really is nothing anyone can do to me, I should just put my trust in God.

Take my precautions, practice like crazy, but put my trust in God.

And take the example of bravery wherever I can find it, especially when it’s in an olympic skater who has just performed brilliantly after losing her mother.