An artistic swimmer like Jacqueline Simoneau can hold her breath for more than five minutes underwater. In the pool or on the surface, the Montrealer maintains a relationship with time different from that of ordinary mortals. No doubt because time has no value when you can stop it.
In the coming months, Simoneau will prepare for a return to competition, two years after retiring. She already sees herself in Paris swimming at her third Olympic Games.
She will also complete her third year in podiatric medicine at the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières, in addition to accompanying the Canadian delegation to the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, and mentoring in various multisport competitions on behalf of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
In the meantime, the 27-year-old swimmer must undergo a battery of tests to ensure her physical condition before returning to the pool. We therefore find her in the offices of the Sports Institute (INS), where she must have an electrocardiogram.
Seated and ready to chat at the INS café, Simoneau represents in a certain way the ultimate athlete. That is to say, an athlete who has excelled in her sport, but who already has a game plan to ensure her post-career, while giving back to the new generation. If the Olympic movement had a face, it would undoubtedly be his.
The UQTR podiatric medicine program is extremely “contingent and busy”. According to Simoneau, the program only accepts 25 students. After two years, their cohort only numbers 18.
If she wants to obtain her diploma and ultimately be able to practice, it is so that she can in turn enable young patients to change their trajectory.
Between the ages of 4 and 8, she was “very ill.” At the Montreal Children’s Hospital, she lost hair, muscle mass, saw blackheads and lost consciousness regularly. Simoneau was eventually diagnosed with celiac disease.
“I had lost hope in sport. I wasn’t able to complete a full day of school, so how was I going to complete synchro practice? But the doctors encouraged me, supervised and reassured me so well that I wanted to have this type of impact, one day, on patients. »
So she grew up cherishing two dreams: having a stethoscope and an Olympic medal around her neck.
But programs like Game Plan, set up after the London Games by the COC, helped her reconcile her two passions. Being at school or in the clinic, “it’s a dream, really.”
She experienced the excitement of the Olympic Games, but when she swaps the jersey for the blouse, she feels like a heroine, but differently. “I have to pinch myself every day to realize that I’m actually doing this. There is no other way to describe it. What we learn at school is stuff that I always wanted to understand. »
She has therefore alternated classes in Trois-Rivières and workshops at the swimming pool in Montreal since the Tokyo Games. A phenomenal workload. “If you’re passionate, it’s never too much,” she says.
From October 20 to November 5, Simoneau will fly to Chile, with the Canadian delegation, to act as athlete service manager during the Pan American Games. In short, she will be a mentor for Canadians.
Since the Tokyo Olympic Games, the Quebecer has been part of the COC athletes’ committee, where she is learning the planning and management of multi-sport events. This role exposes him to governance and the work done upstream by the different sports federations. Another area she is passionate about.
She will therefore return to the Pan American Games, where she won a total of four gold medals, in 2015 and 2019. “We will be based in the athletes’ village. Our goal will be to create a comfortable space for athletes. We’ll go see their matches. We are really here to support them. We can be the references,” she explains.
The PanAms are the closest thing to the Olympic context and environment. The difference, for Simoneau, will be to support athletes from several disciplines. She knows she is capable of advising her teammates, but adapting to the needs of athletes from other backgrounds will represent her biggest challenge.
“I’m not very outgoing, so I’ll have to step out of my comfort zone to go see the athletes and start conversations. »
She nevertheless takes this role to heart, given its significance.
Then with the IOC, she also shines within an athletes’ committee. Position for which she was elected. Its goal is to give back to the next generation: “How can we improve the lives of athletes in preparation for the Olympic Games? Can we optimize their process? So I applied to see how we could have a better impact. »
Because there were still small spaces left in his schedule, Simoneau accepted in recent months to be an analyst for international artistic swimming competitions.
Hired by World Aquatics, formerly the International Swimming Federation (FINA), she put on the headset to play the role of analyst during the 2022 World Championships and the 2023 World Cup.
With this position, she was able to discover her sport from another angle. And the swimmer she has become again will be able to benefit from it, she believes.
His goal was also to popularize all the complexities of his sport. She even sees herself repeating the experience if a broadcaster requires her services. “One hundred percent, yes. Not full time, but I could see myself doing that. I would jump at this opportunity. »
At 27, is Jacqueline Simoneau becoming what she wanted? ” Entirely. I couldn’t ask for better. »
In a few years, she wants to be able to look back with a feeling of accomplishment. She wants, among other things, to win an Olympic medal, start a family and become a doctor without borders.
But will time slip through her fingers like water when she emerges from the depths after five minutes without having drawn a single breath?
“We take it one day at a time. »
And today is his birthday. She will blow out her candles while making wishes that she knows are achievable. Because she is already in the process of granting them.