Joannie Rochette happily pulls out her bronze medal from the Vancouver Olympics when she makes appearances, showing it off to school children and adults alike.
The person Rochette would like most to share it with will never see it, however, a realization that doesn't get any easier no matter how much time passes. It's been a year since Rochette's mother, Therese, died of a heart attack just hours after arriving in Vancouver, and the Canadian skater is still trying to balance the joys and sorrows of how her life has changed.
"I'm really happy, really proud of that medal. But it feels weird not to share it with the person who shared most of my dreams," Rochette said Wednesday. "When you're a kid, all your motivation is to please your parents. Even though I'm not a kid anymore, I had that same feeling, I always wanted to make her proud. It's the hardest thing, not to be able to share it with her."
Rochette became a symbol of courage and strength in Vancouver, taking the ice for practice hours after learning of her 55-year-old mother's sudden death and winning the bronze medal four days later. Though she received hundreds of letters and e-mails of support while in Vancouver and was chosen by her teammates to carry the Canadian flag at the closing ceremony, she had no idea how much her story had touched people until she left the Olympics.
People stopped her on the street to express their condolences and share their own stories of loss. When she went to Japan last month, she saw a fan wearing a necklace that is part of Rochette's campaign to raise awareness of heart disease in women.
"I couldn't believe how many people heard and followed the story. I was really touched by that," she said.
Rochette initially wanted to keep competing, and planned to go to the world championships a month after Vancouver. But Manon Perron, Rochette's coach since she was a child, told her at Therese Rochette's funeral that the skater needed time off, and Rochette soon discovered she was right.
"When I came back, I wanted to lay in bed all day and not see anyone," Rochette said.
But her mother would have hated that.
So Rochette kept skating, headlining "Stars on Ice" in Canada and Japan and making a few appearances on the U.S. leg of the tour. She also teamed up with the University of Ottawa's Heart Institute for the "iheartmom" campaign, designed to raise awareness and funding to fight heart disease, the leading cause of death for women in North America.
She also spends plenty of time with her father, Normand, who has had to adjust to a new life of his own.
"I used to have my mom tell me, 'Do this. Do that.' Now she's not there anymore," Rochette said. "I always want to make the right decisions for my life and I double-question myself, 'OK, what would mom tell me for this?"'
Rochette hasn't ruled out competing again. The shows have kept her in shape -- "I can still do all of my jumps" -- and she needs look no further than Vancouver silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko to know skaters can still be successful after time off.
But the Sochi Olympics are three years away. It's a decision that can wait, especially since there are so many others she has to make on her own now.
"I deal with it every day," Rochette said. "I think it's even harder now. In the Olympics, I was under tremendous pressure and had so much support, so many people around me. When I got home, I realized my life had changed forever. Not just for the Olympics. It was going to be for the rest of my life."