CALGARY — Eric Lamaze vows to continue riding competitively in the face of a frightening diagnosis.
Lamaze added to his totals as the all-time money winner at Spruce Meadows, now just north of $6 million, at the National tournament that concluded Sunday.
Winner of two classes, including the $500,000 Grand Prix, Lamaze’s success this year was particularly meaningful for the 51-year-old from Montreal.
The National was Lamaze’s first competition since revealing publicly he’s been dealing with a brain tumour for over a year and a half.
He’s kept details about treatment and prognosis private, but Lamaze described his condition as an “ongoing battle.”
“The horses are a big part of why I am here,” he said. “I don’t know what level I will continue riding at as the year goes on but I know horses will always be a part of my life.”
Lamaze won Olympic individual gold and team silver in 2008 aboard Hickstead. He claimed a bronze with Fine Lady in Rio in 2016.
He and Fine Lady had four faults to finish just outside the eight-rider jump-off in Sunday’s $210,000 International Cup.
Beezie Madden of the United States went clean with the fastest time for the win.
Lamaze’s cancer was said to be an open secret in the equestrian community, but he didn’t speak publicly about it until May in an interview with a sports television network in France.
While he declared he didn’t want to talk about his health upon his arrival in Calgary, Lamaze spoke of feeling grateful to be able to compete after winning Saturday’s Grand Prix in a jump-off aboard Chacco Kid, and Thursday’s PwC Cup with Fine Lady.
“Before, whenever he walked in the ring everyone would stop and watch just because it’s magic what he can do in the ring,” said Ottawa’s Amy Millar, who was fourth in Sunday’s finale.
“Now, really everybody stops and watches and it just makes your heart happy when he goes out there and does magic like he did yesterday and like he’s been doing all week.”
Lamaze’s public persona is a man whose life has contained the highest highs and the lowest lows.
He was kicked off the 1996 and 2000 Olympic teams for testing positive for cocaine and faced a lifetime ban.
Both suspensions were overturned on appeal, but not in time for him to compete.
Winning individual Olympic gold and helping Canada claim team silver in 2008 turned Lamaze into the poster child for redemption.
He and Hickstead became the top-ranked horse-and-rider combination in the world.
But Hickstead collapsed under Lamaze at a competition in Verona, Italy, and died of an aortic rupture Nov. 6, 2011 at the age of 15.
Lamaze called Hickstead ”the horse of a lifetime”, but it’s a reflection of Lamaze’s talent as a horseman when he guided Fine Lady, a mare that was primarily a 1.5-metre jumper, through the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
The duo did not put a rail down the entire competition — team or individual — until their last fence of a jump-off for gold in the individual event.
Lamaze took six months off this past winter and returned to competition in April.
“The people close to him knew what he was going through,” said Tiffany Foster, a national-team rider who was mentored by Lamaze at his Torrey Pines Stables.
“I said to him with this all sort of started, I was like ‘Oh geez Eric, it will be great material for the book one day. You’re going to have all this stuff. He said ‘Tiff, we had enough material. We don’t really need this.’”
Lamaze has indicated he won’t compete in this summer’s Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Canada’s show jumping team for Lima will be announced later this month.
The retirement of Ian Millar, winner of four Pan Am gold in 10 appearances, and the absence of Lamaze means a large chunk of experience will be missing from the team attempting to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
Canada’s show jumping team can secure a ticket to Tokyo by finishing on the podium in Lima.
Millar’s daughter Amy, Lamaze’s teammate at the 2016 Olympics, expects to feel a different dynamic if she’s named to the Pan Am team.
“It’s going to be very different,” she said. “Whenever you ride on the team with those two guys, they’re such wonderful leaders and they bring everyone together.
“It will be up to the new group to create that synergy.”