Flip the calendar back some twelve months or so, to this time last summer. Emilie Bouchard was among the most active of Sudbury teens, having represented College Notre-Dame, at OFSAA, in track & field in June and preparing for the Canadian Sprint Kayak Championships in Regina in August.
Mix in some part-time involvement as a goaltender with the Panhellenic Storm girls soccer team and it's clear we were dealing with one very busy young lady. And one who was about to experience a year like few others.
In September of 2010, Bouchard would travel, along with her father, to Madagascar to join her mother and siblings (younger brother and sister). An associate professor at Laurentian University, Christian Bouchard was departing, for one year, to renew acquaintances with relatives and friends and continue his research on regions of the Indian Ocean.
Despite the disruption this would cause to an elite athlete, Emilie embraced the opportunity. "When I first found out, I was very happy, because that is where I was born," Bouchard said.
"All my life, I had felt as though I belonged there, that I should experience a year of living there." To be precise, the family would relocate to Reunion Island, an overseas department of France located in the Indian Ocean.
The island is located some 200 kilometres east of Madagascar which, in itself, is an island located off the southeast coast of Africa, a few hundred kilometres from Mozambique.
Although both sprint kayaking and soccer had become key priorities for Bouchard, a choice was made last year. "I had to pick between kayaking and soccer," she said. "The competitions were at the same time and I was kayaking twice a day."
"When I left, I wanted to keep kayaking and train all year round." The climate of a near equitorial country allows such a privilege. There were, however, drawbacks.
"I was practicing on a little river going into the sea - it was only 500 metres long," Bouchard said. "Compared to practicing on Lake Ramsey, it was different. At first, I really didn't like it, turning around every 500 metres."
While the coaching was comparable to her setting in Sudbury, as paddling support was provided by the overseeing body in France, finding training partners on an island which runs roughly 63 kilometres long by 45 kilometres wide can be challenging.
With an entire team of just four paddlers, only one male teen was comparable - and even he was much faster. Despite an island population of some 800,000 people, sport was not a priority.
"Here (in Canada), the routine is set for kids to hold down part-time jobs and do sports while you're at school," Bouchard said. "There, in my classroom, there might have been just me and one other guy that did sports."
Numbers were not the problem. Her high school in St Denis sported a student body of some 1500 young boys and girls. Yet engrained in the cultural mindset, athletics paled considerably compared to academics.
"It was really hard to do kayaking at the same time as school," explained Bouchard. "I had to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to do kayaking, and then school started at 7:30 and finished at 5:30 in the afternoon."
Where early morning practices in Sudbury were followed by a nap at some point in the day, such was not the routine a half a world away. Still, Bouchard persevered with her training until nationals were held, in France, in April.
"When I went to nationals, I didn't like it at all," she said. "The club spirit wasn't the same as in Canada." Although kayaking had become her number one priority, Bouchard had remained active within the local soccer grouping, in part due to a more relaxed approach than one she was used to back home.
"There is one league across the whole island and divisions are broken into A, B and C," Bouchard said. Girls must compete within the boys leagues until they turn 14, at which point there is a junior and senior grouping.
But with no seperation of houseleague and rep players, the loop left Bouchard yearning for more. "We won the Island Cup with the junior team, but there was a wide level of competitiveness," she said.
"It's a bit more serious than Sudburnia, but it's definitely not like competitive soccer here." Hooking up with the senior team after Christmas, the soccer improved for Bouchard, though things she sometimes took for granted were now being put in perspective.
"We have nothing to complain about our fields in Sudbury," she said with a laugh. "A lot of the clubs there don't have a lot of money, so some fields were not good at all."
While her year away provided mixed results from an athletic standpoint, there is little doubt that Bouchard grew as a person. "I was kind of thinking, the past few years, the same as lots of kids in Sudbury, wanting to leave for somewhere else - until I spent a year there and realized how lucky we are to live here," Bouchard said.
On the positive side, the soon-to-be grade 12 student at CND did enjoy the opportunity to re-connect with family, mostly on her mother's side. "We lived right beside my grandparents, and my uncles weren't too far away."
Back in Sudbury, Bouchard knows that she will not be able to quite hit the ground running, re-intergrating herself with her former activities, though some venues should make it easier.
"I'm going to try and do all the sports that I did when I left school at Notre-Dame," she said. "I've always wanted to try flag football."
Soccer has once again surpassed kayaking, as Bouchard considers her options moving forward. "Paddling is a sport where you have to be very dedicated - it's all in or nothing."
Things may change. But given the adjustments the past twelve months have provided, Emilie Bouchard is sure to roll with the punches, learning from the experiences along the way.