Emilie Fournel on her kayaking career
Emilie is a top kayaker from Montreal, Canada. She won several gold, silver and bronze medals in various events and participated in 3 Olympic Games. With her gorgeous french accent, outgoing personality and cheeky smile she is instantly likeable. When I met her for this interview in Bermuda she showed my her polka-dotted K1 - her signature kayak, which raises her spirits every time she sees it. She also showed me her calloused hands - which tell the real story about the hard work involved in her chosen discipline. I saw Emilie train in the gym a couple of times - and oh boy, is she strong! I admire her hard work, her spirit, her discipline and positive attitute. Emilie, you are an inspiration to us all!
How did you get into kayaking?
I was always into sport - I'm from a really outdoor family. For us a vacation was going biking, kayaking, canoeing and camping. We were always outside, enjoying nature. My parents were both kayaking coaches and my dad went to the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. So us kids grew up with kayaks. Until I was about 14 I did gymnastics and in the summer time I would be kayaking. When I was 15, I had the chance to train for the Canada games - so I gave up gymnastics and focused on kayaking only. I made the national team when I was 16 years old.
What did you love about kayaking?
It made me feel in charge. When I was a teenager I liked to sit in my kayak and I could decide where I wanted to go, how fast I wanted to go and if I wanted to go with friends or by myself. A bit like driving a car - it gave me control and freedom.
How did you train for kayaking in the Canadian winter?
I did a lot of swimming, cross country skiing, going to the gym and running - I liked the variety. I came from the gymnastics world - so I was used to a lot of discipline and focus.
How did you balance training with school?
I was always a bit impatient - I wanted to train with the older girls and not with girls my age. This helped me alot, pushed me harder and those were some very important years where I learned a lot and trained very hard. I trained about 30 hours a week and balanced it with school. Until I finished high school it was hard. The college years were a bit easier because I could do half of the studies online. My training got me to a lot of different competitions, so I had to switch universities so many times, because I had to follow the team around. I finally finished my Bachelor degree on environmental studies online.
Tell us about your Olypmic experiences
I took part in 3 Olypmic games and each time I improved by 1 place. My first Olypmic was in China and I was a rookie - just 20 years old. I didn't know what was going on, everything was new to me and the older girls took me under their wings. I came 10th back then.
My second Olympics was in London. I thought the team environment wasn't very good so I packed up, left and went to train with different people all over the world to understand how they were training. I did all that on my own. When I got to London (I was the only Canadian who qualified for the games) it was too much pressure and I realized you can't really do something that big on your own. I came 9th in that one.
Then for last the Olympic in Rio I brought a whole team with me. I was the oldest one this time around and the roles were reversed. It was a very challenging 4 years to pass on what I'd learned to the younger girls. I got an 8th place - the best result I had in any Olympic games. It was a bit disappointing, but now I can say even if I haven't achieved the ultimate goal, there've been so many little goals I have achieved and that has been pretty awesome.
What's the future holding for you? Are you planning to go for the next Olypmics?
I haven't decided yet. Right now I'm enjoying keeping fit doing a lot of different things like swimming, biking, running, track and I'm trying to broaden my experiences. I take my kayak out maybe 3 times a week - before I would take it out 3 times a day.
Next year I would like to try an ocean kayak race. I also applied to do a Masters degree in Sport Administration. I think I'm going to compete next summer - my team wants to keep me on and have me pass on my knowledge to the younger girls. Even if I don't make it to the next Olympics in 2020 - if I can pass on some knowledge to the younger girls, than I feel like I participated there a little bit.
What role does nutrition play?
I grew up eating healthy - lots of vegetables. You learn how to listen to your body and if you are on the right track you will want to eat healthy. For me the hardest was to actually eat enough. I remember going to school and my friends would eat half a sandwich and I would eat a whole sandwich and then finish theirs. I was always the odd one out.
I eat alot of fish, rice, eggs, cheese, yogurt, fruits and vegetables and I love ice cream. When you are in a high training mode it's not that hard to eat well. You don't really feel like eating junk food - you want to feel good, so you eat well.
As for supplements, this is very strict - because we get tested constantly by the anti doping agency. We get protein powder and multi vitamins when we are training hard - but it's all strictly controlled. I would never get them just over the counter.
What does it take to become an Olympic competitor?
Commitment, passion, mental strength and discipline. You need to love what you do and it has to be fun.
Qualifying for the Olympics - crossing the line and realizing you had a great result - that's amazing.
I'm a Canadian champion, 4 times Pan American Champion, won 2 medals at the World Championship and some World Cups. Haven't kept a toll of it, but there were quite a few times on the podium.