Kimberley Hyacinthe feels whole again, ready and able to turn back the clock, or at least stop it in time for Tokyo.
The 31-year-old sprinter is training at York University for one last kick at the Olympics, the only major meet that has eluded her throughout a solid athletics career. She qualified for the 100-metres, 200-metres and 4×100-metre relay squad for Rio 2016 but a torn left quad muscle suffered in a race mere days before she was to board a flight for the final Team Canada training camp derailed her dream.
It was the start of a terrible slide that would shake her to the core, both personally and professionally.
Her focus for Tokyo has narrowed to the 200-metres, and perhaps a spot in the 4×400-metre relay pool. But the Athletics Canada standard for the 200-metres is 22.80 seconds, and the Terrebonne, Que., native needed a moment to recall when she last managed a time that swift.
“Damn, when was that? I’ve had a couple rough years, so 2016 probably.”
Eventually a new normal sets in. Hyacinthe found hers at the end of the 2019 athletics season. She ran 23.45 that summer, a better time than she managed in all of 2017 and 2018. It gave her hope.
“I saw glimpses of being better, so I just keep going.”
She’s not only happy to train and chase her Olympic goal again, she wants to help others reach theirs. On Wednesday, Hyacinthe will be one of eight athletes participating in the final online Team Canada Champions Chats of 2020. She’ll speak to kids, parents and teachers across the nation about the teamwork, community and leadership lessons she has drawn from her life in sport.
It obviously hasn’t always been an easy road for her. But Hyacinthe has found peace again. She is able to look past whatever complications the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to present to see everything working out for the best.
“In my head I feel we’ll figure it out, that it will pan out for me. If we can’t get an indoor season, then what we’re going to attempt to do is go early to outdoor competitions (in the United States). So we’d try to figure out a contingency plan for multiple competitions, then come back and quarantine.”
She will turn 32 before the Olympic trials are held. One of her training partners, Angela Whyte, is already 40. They take inspiration from one another.
“Obviously it shows that age is nothing but a number,” said Hyacinthe. “It sounds corny but it is what it is. As long as you’re going well, then why not? I don’t recover the same, but I still feel pretty good.”
Sure enough, she ran 22.88 on July 10, 2016 in Edmonton, with an illegal 2.1m/s tailwind, to finish second in the Canadian Championships final. She was injured in her next race and bit by bit darkness descended.
“From there, I reinjured myself. Then in 2017 my partner died so I had a whole two years of ‘this is weird,’ just trying to figure out life and trying to train. Obviously you can imagine how difficult that can be. Yeah, and last year as I was getting back to my usual shape, I got hurt at nationals. And now here I am.”
Hyacinthe’s former boyfriend, Hubert Chevrette Belisle took his own life in the summer of 2017, when he was 27 years old. He was a captain in the Canadian armed forces, and had served since 2012, though he was not on active duty at the time of his death in a Quebec City suburb.
Hyacinthe said she had not seen any signs of depression.
“It happened pretty suddenly,” she said.
“For the next two years I was just half of myself, I would say. Usually I am more of a jolly person, full of energy, laughing and joking around. There was none of that for easily a year at practice. I just felt I was hanging on in general.
“I don’t even know what I felt like. It was a lot of anger, then sadness. Disappointment. A roller coaster.
“We were together for six years. And we knew each other since we were 15. He was one of my best friends before we started dating. Honestly, you don’t get over something like that, I don’t think. You learn to live with it. Obviously, my days are way less dark and crazy but I will catch myself being sad for a couple days. You just learn to live with it, to cope, find other hobbies and stuff to occupy your mind.”