One step at a time

It took me time to write this article. There are some moments in your life that are difficult to talk about or to express. It brings you back to your deep-rooted fear, your anxiety and it shows you how human and weak you can be. For a long time, I have tricked myself into believing that rowing my boat really fast over 2km was the most important thing in the world. My whole life was and is about that ! I made choices with my career at university and at work to live my dream further and further. I seized opportunities to go deeper into this breathtakingly fast spiral of high-level sport where surpassing yourself is the number one rule. For the last 15 years, I thought I had experienced highs and lows.

Winning and losing. I had bad seasons and tremendous ones. I thought I knew what hard blows and what overcoming them meant. I like what I do and I do it with all my heart because it makes me feel like I give my best. I have a goal every morning when the alarm rings at 6:30. Reality struck me back and reminded me that rowing is just a part of the path I am on. And when real life choices are ahead of you it sounds like I fooled myself. The hardest was about to come.

After weeks of injury this season as I wrote in my last post , I was again out of the game in January after our Sacramento camp. I worked hard to come back on track and I slowly managed to get my back better. On February 6th, I had the go-ahead to start biking series of 10min. But the very same night at 4am on February 7th, I coughed. Just coughed. What happened next? I just remember an excruciating pain in my back and I passed out. When I woke up, I was in so much pain that I was sweating and shivering at the same time. I couldn’t move and feel my right leg. I started crying of fear, of anger, of pain. After 2 hours of wondering what to do, I called 911. The ambulance came and they somehow managed to lift me from my bed and brought me to the ER. I was sedated for 5 hours in what looked like an ER American TV show to me. Half of the time in a station and the other half in the corridor. As soon as I was kind of fine, I was discharged and sent back home barely able to walk. I then experienced 13 days in hell. No feeling in my right foot, no motor control of my ankle, numbness, pins and needles…and worse…the pain Excruciating pain. It felt like my leg was going to explode and was constantly burning from the inside. Using painkillers, I was able to walk again and the sportsman inside me tried to keep moving forward. I went to the physio, to the pool to keep active and spent hours in deep-end surrounded by senior citizens. One morning, I saw the Olympic Boardworks Divers jumping from 10m and I looked at myself wrapped in my floating belts with a noodle between my legs and I thought : “What are you doing here? You can’t stay like that, suffering, in pain and hoping that things will change”. I needed to be in control again. It was not going fast enough and I picked up my phone. It was a distress call to find solutions straight away. My symptoms were clearly very bad. I was at the end of my tether. Within a few hours, I had an appointment with a neurosurgeon and an MRI scheduled in Vancouver. This 2nd MRI showed that I ruptured my disc in L4-L5 by coughing that night. A whole piece of disc was in the spinal canal pinching the nerve root and causing those leg symptoms. The biggest problem was that this piece of disc could now easily migrate somewhere else just by sneezing or coughing causing a total leg paralysis with permanent damage. The risks were too high and they decided to operate on me. They told me they would perform a microdiscectomy. When saying yes to it, I knew that I was taking a risk for rowing. A back surgery is never a benign thing. But my first concern was my health and my future. I want to be able to stand on my two legs for my wedding, to be able to carry and play with my children. There was no question. I said go for it. There is a risk for my rowing career but I take it. It might be that I won’t be able to row anymore. It happened to some of my fellows. On the other hand some others became Olympic champions after the same surgery. Who knows?
The more I was waiting, the more permanent the damage would be. So as an emergency, I went on surgery on Monday 23rd at 2:30pm. It was performed by one of the best medical teams of the country at the Vancouver General Hospital. I woke up two hours later groggy with a nice and painful wound in the back but my right leg was back again. The next day I did my first steps with the physio and I was home in Victoria on Wednesday 25th.

I am in good spirits again and highly motivated to recover as fast as possible. I have a plan and that changes everything. My teammates were so supportive and kept sending me messages from California where they are on training camp at the moment. The coaches believe in my come back and ability to perform again. The most painful is behind but the hardest might be ahead. Resting, Rehab, start over,…
When I was deep asleep on the surgery table with my back wide-open, I dreamt. I dreamt that I was rowing. How ironic ! I remember it as crystal clear. It was beautiful. I was in my single on dead-flat lake in the sunset. The feeling was magic and it was so smooth and effortless. When I woke up completely dizzy, I started crying and told myself : “You are not done with rowing. You can be sure of that”. I am going to fight and do everything I can to seat on a boat and feel that again.


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A big “MERCI” to all the people who helped me and will help me going through this rough time. Family, friends, teammates, surgeons, doctors, nurses, physios and Rowing Canada for their support.


“The adventure goes on….”