The Olympic Games are a celebration of sport and Therese Washtock knows the kind of “sweat and determination” it takes to actually get there.
“I was always into sports,” explained Washtock. “In 1972 I saw the Munich Olympics and the hostage taking and that really made an impression on me….so I thought, I’m going to go to the Olympics one day.”
Although she was a swimmer, figure skater and competed in all manner of sport, she soon recognized that she was not a leading athlete and would probably not become an Olympian that way.
Because of her love and gift with animals, she also rode horses.
One day while watching a woman rider doing jumps at the World Championships a “light bulb went off” in her head. She realized that she could do that and get to the Olympics that way.
Still a teenager, she started training and competing, travelling throughout Canada and the United States, qualifying in Dressage and Event Riding competitions.
She had qualified for the 1980 Olympics in Russia, but Canada boycotted the games and pulled their team.
Four years later she qualified again, when this time, the horse she was riding suffered a career ending injury.
Not to be deterred, she returned home to start again, immersing herself into training to be a professional rider, training this time with more than one horse. She qualified for the 1988 Olympics, when one horse sprained an ankle and the other went lame.
“I was spun from competition. I can still remember the feeling of that,” said Washtock. “I thought it was God testing me so I said to myself, I’ve got to stay positive, because I’m going to the Olympics!”
She regrouped, returned home and continued to train and compete. After qualifying for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, her horse went lame again.
The following year, Washtock was contacted by the owner of a horse named Aristotle.
“I don’t give up and I’m pretty persistent,” said Washtock. “I had a belief and I believed in that horse and had a great training system. I had fundamental people that helped me and a wonderful owner that believed in me.”
Washtock repeated a quote, by the philosopher Aristotle, to herself each day. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.”
Together with the horse named Aristotle, her dream of making it to the Olympics finally materialized. They were on the Canadian Equestrian Team, for Three Day Eventing, at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
“My whole life had been about preparing to go to the Olympics”, explained Washtock. “Now I was good enough to potentially win a medal…and I got to go and learn the lesson of not winning a medal.”
Unfortunately after being tied for second place after the first day, she made a mistake and went off course. This resulted in penalty points that took her out of contention for a silver medal.
“I was moping for a short period of time, because I had blown it for my team mates,” explained Washtock. “That was the hardest part of the cross to bear.”
Washtock can still transport herself back to that time, feels the butterflies and gets goosebumps when talking about the experience. She recalls the Olympic Stadium full of people and waving to the crowds, seeing the flags flying and wishing the moment would never end.
“It was the first time I felt like I was with people who were just like me,” she said. “It takes a little bit of oddness to get there.”
It also took sacrifice, hard work and the grit to never give up on a dream.
Since that time, Washtock has trained 20 horses or horse rider combinations that have qualified for the Canadian Equestrian Team long list, with three of those advancing to the Olympics.
“I’m very proud of that,” she said.
Today she no longer competes, but still works with horses.
“For me it has always been about the process. Now I don’t compete but nobody can take away my love of horses,” said Washtock. “I love animals and I have a gift….it was that connection that led me to the Olympics.”