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Dream to reality: The Olympic story of Isabelle Rampling

03/08/2016 Emilie Lussier

Doesn’t everyone dream of taking part in the Olympic games at one point in time? I know I did. I had a dream to one day win gold for synchronized swimming. Yes, I fell in love with this often unappreciated and even despised sport.

I discovered synchronized swimming when I was 12-years-old. A late bloomer, I still practice it today at the age of 35. Just for an instant, under the water, I feel free and strong and like I’m able to control the water. When I do miss a breath, I panic and I feel like I might die. But then, what a relief it is to make it back to the top and get air.

The movie "Perfect" by Jérémie Battaglia has been in theatres since January. The documentary showcases the hard reality of synchronized swimmers and how they work hard in an effort to seek perfection.

“We’re about to dive in and I know I’m going to die,” explains the Canadian team captain in the documentary. “Sometimes I wonder why I do this.” She’s right. The athletic capabilities of this sport are inhumane and can have serious repercussions on the athletes. Sometimes we feel like our bodies don’t even belong to us.

And what is left of this body once the olympics are over? Not everything is rosy. Of course, the experience helps you grow, but it can also be torturous and include mourning, depression, and in some extreme and unimaginable circumstances, prostitution.

But today as the 2016 Olympic games in Rio approach, I feel excited and like an old dream is coming back to life. I spoke with synchronized swimming olympienne Isabelle Rampling to learn more about her experience.

I have to first admit that Rampling was one of my biggest idols. She was also my trainer for a number of years and I’m so proud to have had the chance to swim next to her during the FINA swimming world championships, in Montreal, in 2014. She has become a friend, a confidante and she has opened my eyes to the world post-olympics. First, I asked her this question:

“How do you live this Olympic glory?”

Isabelle Rampling: At first glance, this question may seem simple. But how do we judge which event in time is actually that of “glory”? Looking back today, I’d say the highlight of my athletic career wasn’t the Olympics at all. To date, my most memorable ‘achievement’ was performing at my very first World Championships. It was the most spectacular experience I could ever ask for. Held at home in front of a crowd composed of all my closest friends and family, I could feel the power from their presence. Their cheers could be heard over the music, from even under the water, and encouraged me to use every last ounce of oxygen. They gave me the energy to strive for success when it counted the most. It was without a doubt my most joyful event thus far.

Having only just come back from a major accident which left me in a wheelchair for some time, my passion for the sport allowed me to rise up to the occasion and find the drive to then literally crawl back into the cold water day after day long before I could even begin to relearn how to walk.

Later in life, I was fortunate enough to pursue my childhood dreams and compete as part of the Canadian National Team at the 2008 Olympic Games. Only then did I really feel prepared to challenge myself in other new and exciting avenues. And let me tell you, it was harder to do than it looks. Over those years, I gained experience, confidence and I became wiser, and learned how to prioritise my life ambitions, especially how to better take care of myself. I realized that life after sports will go on. Today, I can say that I owe everything to my sport’s career and especially to my parents for introducing me to the greatest of all opportunities.

***In a few days, we will share with you the second part of this interview. What comes after the Olympic glory? How do we build a “normal” life? The answer is a lot more surprising than you might assume. Believe me!