Joannie Rochette may never look at chicken the same way again. At least not when it’s sitting on a plate right in front of her.
Of the many memories the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist brought home from a recent trip to Honduras on behalf of World Vision, none is more likely to inspire storytelling than the night Rochette, her boyfriend Guillaume Gfeller and agent David Baden were invited to dinner by one of the families they visited in the Central American country.
“As the family was having guests that night they wanted to have chicken for dinner,” Rochette recalled from the late-May excursion. “They went into their yard and caught five chickens. They killed them in front of us.
Then they took the feathers out — the kids were helping with the feathers — and there was dinner. It couldn’t be more fresh than that.”
Rochette laughed as she related the tale, but her reaction at the time was clearly something different — and her new friends definitely knew it.
“I did not really like the killing part, but at least you know they have something to eat,” she said. “It was shocking to see that but when you’re from there, it’s so different and they are used to it. They were laughing because I made a face that said, ‘Oh no, don’t kill it now.’ But to them, it’s just natural. These people have great spirit.”
For Rochette, a 25-year-old native of Ile-Dupas, Que., it was her second trip on behalf of World Vision, a relief and development organization which promotes sponsorship of children in underdeveloped countries. It has been the official charity of the Canadian Stars on Ice tour for the last four years, with more than 100 children receiving sponsorship through that connection.
“This trip made me realize how lucky we are. We take so many
things for granted.”
Rochette inherited the torch from former Stars cast member Jennifer Robinson as a spokesperson for World Vision. As with her original trip to Peru in 2010, Rochette went to Honduras to film television spots for the organization’s catalog, which offers people the opportunity to purchase items such as chickens, goats, fish, eggs and books for needy families.
“These things really make a difference in their lives,” Baden explained. “If I bought you a chicken, you’d think I’m crazy, but to them, they could end up having eight, then 10 chickens. Then they can sell them and they can afford the necessary staples.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the group was the oppressive, sweltering heat they encountered on their adventure.
“It was very hot. It was 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) every day. You needed a nap in the afternoon, that’s what they told us,” Rochette said. “And there was a bit more TV work than the last trip. We got to meet three different families and do stories on them.”
While she saw plenty of evidence of poverty and hardship in Peru, Rochette deemed the trip to Honduras much more uplifting. “It was mainly happy stories about families that benefited from gifts from the World Vision catalogue,” she said. “One family got equipment to start their own fish hatchery. We saw a family that had received a chicken and started a farm.
“Usually, their kids can’t go to school for very long, but with the money the family earned from the fish hatchery, they could afford to send their two daughters to school for a long time.”
Baden agreed. “These are families that are not destitute. They are benefiting from what World Vision has given them, the technology and resources to build and maintain things like the fish hatchery and the chicken coop.”
The hatchery is a combined effort of a community in the middle of the Honduran jungle, working together to raise 12,000 tilapias in a pond setting. It also gave Rochette her first opportunity to try catching fish with a net — she had only done it the traditional way before, using a pole.
“There were no fish big enough to be eaten. They were not ready yet so we just put them back in the water,” she said.
Rochette, who recently purchased her first home — a condominium in Montreal — and has a new sponsorship deal with Audi that provides her with a car for the next three years, was humbled by what she saw in Honduras.
“It makes you realize that it doesn’t matter how much money you might have in your bank account or what kind of car you drive ... it doesn’t make any difference. Underneath it all, we are all the same, we are all alike.”
The six-time Canadian champion had an encounter with hardship of a different kind in July when she took part in a benefit show in Japan to aid victims of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of that island nation.
It was one of a series of shows she performed in during an early summer Asian stretch that also took her to China.
Shows and touring with Stars on Ice will continue to be her focus for the upcoming season, but Rochette knows any decision about possibly returning to competition can’t be put off for much longer.
“I’ll do the tour for another year and then I will have to make a decision,” she said. “I want to compete at the Japan Open in October, so I’ll have to train a long program at some point. It’s not easy when you’re doing shows all year, to just train for that one competition.”
The 2014 Olympic Winter Games are still a possibility for her, though Rochette might approach it in a different way if she chooses to take that plunge. “She’s interested in that new team event for the Olympics,” Baden explained. “It’s something that she’s considering. No decision has been made yet, but she’s definitely interested.”
Her first season away from the competitive world provided a change of pace for Rochette who admitted it took some getting used to. “It’s got its pros and cons,” she said of her life on tour.
“It’s less stressful and training is different. I don’t get to be at home as often. My life is not as organized or disciplined as it was when I was competing, because I’m gone all the time and I can’t plan a very organized schedule. It’s very different.
“And it is nice to be able to perform without the stress, to be able to make some money, to see many cities and to be able to actually see something when you go there. At a competition, I would just stay in the hotel and not go out. With a show, it’s different. I can go sightseeing a bit more.”
Rochette also continues to work on behalf of I Heart Mom, the charity she started in memory of her mother Thérèse, who died of a massive heart attack just days before Rochette claimed bronze at the 2010 Winter Games.
She is also partnering with the University of Ottawa Heart Institute to help raise funds to support the fight against women’s heart disease. Rochette said sales of a special pendant created by Birks “are going really well.”
The group has a charity golf tournament planned for September that will take place in Ottawa. “I don’t know if I’m going to play or do something else,” Rochette said with a laugh.
Originally published in October 2011