In conversation with Joëlle Numainville
The team stops for a coffee break on their recovery ride after a few hard days at the Mallorca training camp. The stop is a perfect opportunity for the film crew who’ve been following in the team car all day to get some questions in.
“Joelle!” “Joelle,” is the answer to the first two questions: ‘Who is the craziest rider in the group,’ and ‘Who has the best fashion sense’.
When you meet Numainville, you quickly realise she is unique in the way her brain works and how that translates into the way she communicates. Her communication is consistent, whether she is speaking to the head of one of the team’s sponsors or the lady about to clean her hotel room.
In the interview for this story, we start our communication with where she is from and the family she grew up in. “I’m proud to be from Montreal,” she says immediately.
When I ask her whether she has any siblings, she mentions her brother. “He is just like me, amazing beautiful person,” (laughs). The conversation jumps between serious and very funny, which describes exactly how Numainville lives her life. Within the team, she’s always the one who will forget her jacket at the dinner table or leave her towel in the massage room. She doesn’t pay attention to the small details so it’s easy to mistake that for not being focused. However, the thing about Joelle is, she is always paying close attention to the bigger picture.
“I like to do things my way,” she says. “People care so much about what others think of them and I’ve never understood it. Maybe it’s a women thing. As long as I get my coffee in the morning, I don’t care what others think of me.”
Her introduction to cycling started when some family friends were doing mountain bike races on the weekends. The races were held in the mountains so she enjoyed the escape from the city with friends. Usually, when talking to professional cyclists about their first races you expect to find they beat the opposition from the first stroke of the pedal but when I ask how she did in her first race, her reply is, “So bad. It was fun because you know you’re with your friends and we’d stay at a resort each weekend so it was nice.”
Those kind of weekends went on for a few years. Did she get better at riding? “I couldn’t get worse,” she says, laughing.
“Before that I did all kinds of sport like a typical kid. Swimming, tennis, soccer. I liked soccer.” What position did she play? “I don’t know, when you’re a kid they play you anywhere.”
When she was fifteen she had to choose between mountain biking and soccer as she no longer had the time to do both. Growing up in the city, her parents got her to join a local cycling team to use it as training for the mountain biking races. In her own words, she “sucked” at the mountain biking as she went to the races without any training. Her supportive parents could see she still enjoyed participating thus the switch to the road came about.
Was she better than the other kids in her road club? “Yeah, yeah, I was pretty good in the sprint” she says nonchalantly.
Things starting getting serious as she was selected to represent Canada in the world championships as a junior. The result: 18th in the ITT. She remembers being in the top 20 which signaled she may yet possess some talent.
A Master’s in Finance
Numainville says “I’ve never wanted to work at McDonald’s so school is important.” She’s been focused on two things the last ten years - a professional cycling career coupled with getting a degree in finance. She’s very close to completing a Masters in Finance. It’s not uncommon after the day’s racing to see her running through the economic section of the New York Times.
The importance of the two things ranks differently depending on what time of year it is. Her studies took a back seat last year when she was focused on the world championships, a race she finished eleventh in. The focus then shifted to completing exams during the off season.
“Right now, everything is for Rio.” She’s had previous Olympic experience when she was selected for London. “It was great, I liked it. It was good experience to go there,” she says. That experience has helped her work towards Rio. When she says experience, she doesn’t mean race experience, but rather undergoing the selection process which can be very stressful. “It’s a year long process. This year I am much more relaxed about the process because I’ve been through it. You know what the process is, I know exactly what I have to do.”
The following words again show how she doesn’t sweat the small things but how she’s always focused on the longterm, bigger picture. “If you win a medal, it can change your life. Someone told me there is a study done which shows that if you’re at the same education level as someone else, you will always be promoted first because of your medal.”
The support her family showed when she was coming through the junior ranks is still evident now. They don’t openly talk about the Olympics and are careful not to put any pressure on her but she says, “My mother knows I have to be in shape so she won’t put a cake in front of my face when I am home.” Perhaps they understand the level of commitment it takes at the top level of the sport as they joined her in London for the games. Every parent should join their kids in the Olympic games according to Numainville. It’s a big moment for the whole family, not just for the selected athlete, according to her.
But, serious moments don’t last that long with Numainville as she adds, “Everyone wants to be your friend before the Games, just in case you get famous.” (laughs)