Eric Lamaze sat atop his beautiful mare Fine Lady 5 in the centre of the international showjumping ring at Spruce Meadows on Thursday and doffed his riding helmet as applause rained down from the grandstand.
He smiled broadly as he accepted the ribbon, plaque and championship blanket that is given to the winner of the PWC Cup.
“I feel great,” Lamaze said.
He is 51 and one of the greatest equestrians in Canadian history. Eighteen months ago, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He took time off to begin treatment and only weeks ago spoke publicly about his illness for the first time.
He shrugged off the victory in the 1.5-metre jumping competition at the second day of the National because there are other things far more important.
“For me to even be here is a dream after the year I have had,” Lamaze said.
He was shaken and withdrawn when he received his diagnosis. He was unsure if he would ever return to Spruce Meadows, where he has won more show jumping titles than anyone else.
He prefers not to discuss his treatment, but he is back.
“I’d be lying if I told you I was 100-per-cent myself,” Lamaze said. “This keeps me happy and gives me a great reason to get up every morning and do what I love doing.”
He was unable to ride most of the winter and the first time he got on Fine Lady 5, she was very rusty.
“I wasn’t riding well myself and she felt some insecurity from me and it made for a poor result."
They fared poorly in an outing in Miami and then he turned Fine Lady 5 over to train with others. They are just finally back in the saddle together now.
“Balance is a major thing for me now,” Lamaze said. “So is my energy level and my reflexes.”
Nobody was complaining on the lush green grounds on the south side of Calgary that lure horses and their riders from all over the world. The National runs through Sunday.
There will be more Lamaze. And more love delivered in his direction.
“It makes me happy to be here jumping,” Lamaze said. “I have so many memories here I will never forget.”
There is one more.
He sat atop Fine Lady 5 and watched as a mounted colour guard raised the Canadian flag over the grandstand. He accepted congratulations from other riders, and addressed a handful of news reporters as he stood in the rain.
On the public-address system, Celine Dion sang My Heart Will Go On.