Sarah Fournier | “Swimming saved my life”

In February 2012, Sarah Fournier and Katerine Savard represented the CSQ swimming club at the Eastern national championships in Gatineau. Winner of six medals, the first was chosen best swimmer aged 15 and under. Author of a sweep of the three butterfly events, the second won the same title in the 16 and over category.

Less than two months later, Savard qualified for her first Olympics at the age of 17. Three years her junior, Fournier also participated in her first Olympic Trials, placing 27e in the 100m backstroke. The future seemed bright for the teenager from Loretteville.

Fournier had to wait five years before joining Savard on a senior national team. In 2017, the two swimmers joined forces to lead Canada to a gold medal in the 4x100m relay at the Universiade in Taipei. A year later, Fournier competed at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo, where she finished sixth in the 50m freestyle, an event in which the 6’1″ athlete had specialized.

This meeting was his last on the international scene before the World Championships in Doha, which conclude this week in Qatar with the swimming and water polo competitions. Last Sunday, at the end of the first day of swimming in the pool, Fournier and Savard held hands on the podium, bronze medals around their necks.


Rebecca Smith, Katerine Savard, Sarah Fournier and Taylor Ruck

A little earlier, the two Quebecers, with their teammates Rebecca Smith and Taylor Ruck, had led Canada to third place after a thrilling 4 x 100 m relay, won in extremis by the Netherlands in front of Australia.

It was only when watching the restart that Fournier realized that Poland, fourth, was leading the race until the last exchange. “It must have been really fun for people to watch!” “, she noted on the phone two days later, before the start of the evening session where her compatriot Ingrid Wilm won bronze in the 100m backstroke.

It happens so quickly when it happens. You swim, you get out of the water, you’re out of breath and you try to cheer on your teammates.

Sarah Fournier

She needed a day to truly understand what she had just accomplished. “It’s still been seven years since I’ve experienced that. It seems like I didn’t realize it at the time. It was when the energy and all the adrenaline subsided that I was able to say to myself: “It’s done, we succeeded!” »

When asked what this medal represents, Sarah Fournier turns to the collective: “A relay, we do it for the team. It gave us momentum and good energy. Last year, the girls failed to get on the podium. To be able to achieve this, in an Olympic year at that, is super positive. »

On a personal level, the 27-year-old swimmer was more circumspect, repeating that she will need time to measure what she has achieved. She opened up after a question about her five and a half year international eclipse.

“To make a long story short, I was diagnosed with a severe eating disorder when I was young. I always managed to manage it well though. After the numerous hospitalizations, I was more stable. But after 2018, I may have taken a bit of a break. It was more difficult mentally. I had to take a step back. When the head is not there, it is certain that the performances do not follow. »

42 kg

Sarah Fournier has suffered from anorexia since adolescence, after being the victim of rape. In a daily shock testimony The sun, in 2019, she said that around the age of 15, her weight did not exceed 42 kg while she was almost 1.83 m tall. His heart was beating at 19 beats/minute.

“The doctors don’t understand how I’m still alive,” she revealed to journalist Olivier Bossé. “I lost a nasty piece of that year. I have no memory of it. At 19 beats, I was comatose. I was hospitalized three times over a period of about a year and a half, two years. Before coming home, I swam twice and ran 40 minutes a day. Without eating. Or a carrot in my day, a baby carrot! »

Despite this hellish diet, she stuck to swimming, even if it meant diving for 15 minutes, the maximum her doctors allowed her at the start. When she took 500 grams, she was allowed 15 minutes more.

“The hardest part is communicating”

“This illness has its ups and downs,” she continued with The Press Tuesday. I was still severely affected. For me, it’s not something that will completely heal. I have to learn to live with this. »

This period forced her to take a step back from swimming, without ever putting her swimsuits away. At the final 2021 Olympic Trials, she finished second in the 50m freestyle, missing the A qualifying standard by just over half a second.

She imposed a large dose of pressure on herself, which social networks amplified. “At one point, I had to get off social media because it wasn’t working. I went to see the other athletes, their performances. Knowing that the Trials are coming, you ask yourself: “Am I ready or not?” We ask ourselves a lot of questions. »

“Of course, body image also comes into play,” she continued. Because what we see on social networks is not always reality. Several factors caused things to fail for me. I had to step away for a little while to take care of my health and my mind. I realized that I could never reach the levels I wanted again if I didn’t take care of myself. »


Sarah Fournier, Katerine Savard, Rebecca Smith and Taylor Ruck (in the water) at the conclusion of the 4 x 100m relay on Sunday

His family, his entourage and a medical team gave him all the support required. “But often, the hardest part is communicating it,” she said. Initially, we need (others) because we don’t see it all the time. Then, slowly but not quickly, we take the necessary steps to be able to get back up to speed. »

Through the storms, what is now called the Quebec Region Swimming Club (CNQ), whose colors it has worn for around twenty years, has been a constant help. “All the members of the club are somewhat aware of the situation,” underlined the one who works as administrative coordinator for the CNQ. “I always had a lot of support. If I’m not doing well, they see it even before me. They will ask me: “Are you okay, Sarah?” »

Marc-André Pelletier, his coach for around fifteen years, is probably the person who asked him this question most often. “His greatest strength is his resilience,” said the man who is part of the coaching team in Doha. “Even though she is “old”, this is her first world championship. I think it’s a great example for people. We don’t give up, like in a feel-good sport movie. »

” Continue to advance ”

If her story, delivered spontaneously, can be useful to others, Sarah Fournier will be very happy. “I’m quite open. It’s clear that a lot of people are experiencing this problem. The more we talk about it, the better it will be. Taboos must be avoided. »

Unfortunately, it can happen to anyone, and more often than you think.

Sarah Fournier

More prosaically, she had to overcome a microtear in an elbow tendon which slowed her down throughout the fall. She was only able to return to full training in the water a month and a half before the Worlds. Her 100m relay was her first in competition since her victory at the Canadian Championships last summer. On Thursday, she will line up in the individual 100m heats, in the same start as the indestructible Sarah Sjöström, the Swedish world record holder. She is also a candidate for Saturday’s mixed 4 x 100m relay.

Aware that she has not regained her best level, she remains focused on the Olympic Trials in Montreal in May. “Right now, I’m trying to take every opportunity to fill my suitcase with experience to be ready. I’m here and at the Trials, whatever happens, I know that I will have done everything in my power. »

Twelve years after these Eastern Championships where she shone, Sarah Fournier is in fact still here, swimming laps in chlorine, not without sometimes questioning herself.

“At some point you say to yourself: ‘Crime, is it worth it? Where am I?” Because it requires a lot of energy. But I think swimming saved my life too. It allowed me to really rebuild myself and be more balanced. When I’m done with sports, I’m going to be healthier towards myself. I will be able to continue moving forward in life. »


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