Dionne a true champion

To Red Deer’s Olympic medalist Deidra Dionne who has made one of the most difficult decisions in her career — to retire as one of the world’s best freestyle ski aerialists.

To Red Deer’s Olympic medalist Deidra Dionne who has made one of the most difficult decisions in her career — to retire as one of the world’s best freestyle ski aerialists.

Dionne captured the hearts of Central Albertans almost eight years ago. They sat the edge of their seats and watched in astonishment her televised performance in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, which earned her a bronze medal.

It was an electrifying moment for those glued to the television. They yelled, hooted and danced around their TV rooms or the floors of local pubs in celebration when they witnessed through the live broadcast Dionne securing the bronze in Salt Lake City.

In the interviews that followed shortly after the victory, one could not help but be inspired by an ecstatic young athlete who reached for the moon and caught it.

Her beaming face and endless “thank-you’s” spoke volumes of the incomprehensible joy a young person could experience by achieving their ultimate goal. She overcame many hurdles and conquered her Mount Everest during the Olympic moment.

And in the aftermath, she became a wonderful ambassador for her community and her sport.

Sadly, now at the age of 27, Dionne has reluctantly retired this week. She faces another life hurdle — this time a benign brain tumour on her right temporal lobe. It’s non-life-threatening, but enough for her to say enough is enough, and look ahead to attending law school starting next year.

“Life can really seem unfair at times,” Advocate sports reporter Danny Rode confided with Dionne during a very solemn interview on Thursday afternoon.

Rode, honoured as a member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame for his dedication in covering sports from the minor levels to world-champion achievements, had followed Dionne’s career meticulously. It was a very difficult interview for him on Friday as she talked about her decision.

Many Central Albertans share the sadness being felt by an outstanding athlete who made the very difficult decision to bow out of world competition.

Dionne’s tumour, while not life-threatening, has the potential to trigger seizures.

“My heart is broken,” she said. “I still have an incredible desire to be a part of the 2010 Olympics (in Vancouver), but the risk I would be taking might jeopardize my chance at a successful life following sport.”

Yes, life can seem to be unfair at times.

But Dionne can look back at her years on the World Cup circuit and take great comfort in knowing, while still at a very young age, she has caught the moon — and many good years lie ahead.

Besides the Olympic bronze, her outstanding achievements include eight freestyle World Cup medals and two bronze world championship medals.

“Deidra has never shied away from a challenge,” said Canadian Freestyle Ski Association CEO Peter Judge. “While this is not the way she intended to end her competitive career, I have no doubt that she will be incredibly successful in the path she takes from here on in.”

Dionne’s comforting character and experience as a public speaker might play an important role in her future. She has used her athletic celebrity to support numerous causes for children and mentally- and physically-challenged athletes, including Right to Play, the Special Olympics and McDonald’s McHappy Day.

Dionne is a champion in sport and life.

Rick Zemanek is an Advocate editor.