Growing up on the same street in Orléans, their birthdays only days apart, Rachel Homan and Ivanie Blondin shared specialty-themed birthday cakes.
They spent some lazy summer nights at bonfires in Navan and were part of a group of teenaged friends who regularly took part in games nights.
Now, remarkably, Homan and Blondin have emerged as Canadian medal favourites in different sports at the ultimate games — the Olympic Games — 10,500 kilometres from home at Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Homan, the steely eyed skip out of the Ottawa Curling Club, secured an Olympic spot with her rink that includes Emma Miskew, Joanne Courtney and Lisa Weagle by winning the pressure-packed Roar of the Rings Olympic trials at Canadian Tire Centre in December.
Blondin, who competed in long track speedskating at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, is fresh from winning gold in the 3,000 metres at an International Skating Union World Cup event in Germany on Jan. 21.
“Who would have known?,” says Blondin, who will also compete in the 5,000 metre, team pursuit and mass start events at the Olympics. “Curling and speedskating are completely different. I feel like Rachel is one of my really good friends outside of (my) sport, but we never really spoke about our sports growing up.
“It was just a girls-hanging-out kind of thing.”
Naturally, though, while they have criss-crossed the country and the world in pursuit of the podium at national and international competitions, they have kept close tabs on each other’s success.
During a break in her curling schedule last fall, Homan visited Blondin in Calgary, where she trains with the national speedskating team. After Homan won the Roar of the Rings and was celebrating with family and friends in Ottawa, a FaceTime call went out to Blondin, who was competing at Salt Lake City on the same day.
“It is pretty cool,” Homan says of the relationship. “It’s her second (Olympics) and we had hoped to go together to Sochi, but we didn’t get there, unfortunately. In Pyeongchang, I should be able to see quite a few of her events.”
Homan and Blondin have competed at the same event, albeit on a much smaller scale, before. Way back in 2007, when Blondin was skating short track — she contemplated hanging up her skates for good, then switched to long track after failing to qualify for the 2010 Olympics — they were both at the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse.
Now, 11 years later, they’re on the biggest possible stage together again.
“You don’t know where your friends are going to go or how well they’re going to do (in life), but back then, we just hung out as friends,” Homan says.
Homan, 28, and Blondin, 27, attended different high schools — Homan went to Cairine Wilson Secondary School, Blondin to École secondaire catholique Garneau — and they were busy with their respective sports.
But when it came to birthdays, “we celebrated together,” says Homan. Come summer, there was nothing like sitting around the bonfire.