Karen Cockburn and Mathieu Turgeon live in Stouffville, Ont., a quaint throwback of a town outside Toronto. It’s the kind of place with a general store and drivers who slow to a crawl when a pedestrian so much as considers crossing the street. Things are simple and busy. Turgeon is a chiropractor in nearby Scarborough. Cockburn is preparing for her fourth Olympics, training six days a week in the surrounding areas of Richmond Hill and Markham. She starts late and ends late, often waking well after he’s gone, returning in the afternoon to make dinner, then heading back to the gym for an evening session. She fits in Pilates and hot yoga where possible. Life is a blur of kisses in the doorway, meals eaten alone and quick retellings of the day’s events before going to sleep.
It helps, says Cockburn, that her husband can relate. Before becoming a chiropractor, he was a trampolinist who won bronze at the 2000 Sydney Games. They met 20 years ago, when Cockburn was 11 and Turgeon was 12, at the trampoline gym in Richmond Hill where Cockburn still trains. Through the years, Turgeon has been her biggest fan, even when his admiration wasn’t so well-received.
“People would always tell me he liked me,” says Cockburn. “At a party after one of our national team banquets, everyone was sure he was going to ask me to dance, so I went and hid in the bathroom. I was like, ‘No! He’s a nerd!'”
Turgeon refused to give up. Years later, during the lead-up to Sydney, Turgeon and Cockburn were walking to his car on a lunch break when he took her hand in his. She didn’t pull away. Hand holding turned into dates, and three weeks later, Turgeon told Cockburn he loved her. “It just happened out of nowhere – really fast and pretty amazing,” she says. They married in 2007.
They’re keen to start a family, so London will be Cockburn’s last Games. Her odds for a medal are great. “Flight time” has been added to the judging criteria this year (in addition to execution and difficulty), and since Cockburn is naturally a high jumper, the change could play to her advantage. The focus of her training and her eating, she says, is to maintain an optimal weight-to-power ratio – which means being muscular only where necessary (her legs) and light everywhere else.
Knowing that these will be her final Olympics helps Cockburn stay focused. She has won a medal every time she has attended – bronze in Sydney and silver in Athens and Beijing – but she’s not quite done yet.
“I’m already so proud to be going to my fourth Games,” she says. “But at the end of the day, I want that gold medal. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Quick Fact: According to NASA, jumping on a trampoline can be 68 percent more effective than jogging.
When to watch: Saturday, August 4 at 9 am EST
Q & A: Karen Cockburn
“Jump” by Kriss Kross or Van Halen: Van Halen
Skydive or bungee jump: Neither. Believe it or not, I’m afraid of heights.
Olympic hero: Silken Laumann
What she’s thinking in the air: Point my toes! Straighten my arm!
Guilty pleasure: Chocolate, the darker the better. It makes me feel less guilty.
Dream vacation: Southeast Asia Latest purchase on iTunes: I don’t have a go-to jam – whatever my husband downloads
(Photo: Fred Lum/Globe and Mail Digital Image)