What a pleasure it was to interview Claude Painchaud, an inspiring woman who seems like she’s unstoppable. She captured my attention when I learned that, at age 81, she had won Ottawa’s 2017 half marathon — a 21 km race. Only 5 women finished the race in her category.
She laughs as she explains how during the race, 8 people along the way voted her “most beautiful outfit-of-the-day!
Claude’s career was busy to say the least. She practiced child psychiatry all her life — she was the very first child psychiatrist in Quebec City. Back then she also opened the CHULL hospital’s new child psychiatry department. Parallel to this, she spent her life giving lectures and teaching medical students at the university as well as residents at the hospital. All this while raising her 3 children. In 1994, she wrote a novel called Le décroche-coeur, telling a story about emotional dependence. As you can see, undertaking new projects never scared her.
Through the interview, I wanted to discover what shaped this woman to become so bold. To find out how she managed to pursue and achieve all her ambitious goals.
HOW SHE WON HER FIRST HALF MARATHON
A little over a year before the race, Claude decided she wanted to run.
I thought to myself, my kids and my grand-children are running. Some are even running marathons and triathlons. So if I don’t want to be left behind, I better start running too!
She felt like achieving something new, needed a new challenge. Recognizing that professionally, she’d had a rather interesting career. And as she puts it, “It is scientifically proven that movement equals health. Both physically and mentally. And I don’t want to age.” So the decision was pretty easy for her. As she could only see advantages to it.
So progressively, following her own pace, and her own set of rules, she started running. She would run every day, until she had the endurance to run for an hour. Finally, she told her kids about her intention to run in Ottawa’s 21 km race. At that point, her children, a bit sceptic about the whole thing, wanted to provide all sorts of advice to help their mother get the best results out of her training. But she candidly admits to being way too stubborn to ever want to be told what to do. So she went about it as she saw fit, went to the race, and just did it.
CLAUDE’S UNCONVENTIONAL CAREER PATH
It was interesting to go back to her younger years. Claude describes herself as an energetic young girl who would simply go for what she wanted. “At age 15, the school sisters didn’t know what to do with me anymore. So I started working as a secretary.” Then, between the age of 16 and 19, she went on with a full-time secretarial job for the Bank of Montreal, while she studied at night to complete her classical education. It’s interesting to point out that being in the early 50s, a special permission from the school’s head had been required to grant her the right to study. As she was going to be the only woman in the group!
Next, came 5 years of medical studies. At that point there were 7 women out of a total of 125 students. “Those were the best social years of my life. I never missed a party!“, she says proudly. After receiving her medical degree, with Summa Cum Laude — the school’s highest distinction — she got married and left to do her residency in the United States and Paris. Finally, Claude went on to perfect her skills, picking child psychiatry as a specialty, for 2 more years of studies.
Since she didn’t have any time to waste, she had her 3 children during her residency. And as she points out,
Back then, the expression ‘maternity leave’ did not even exist. 15 days after giving birth you were going back to work. You had to find a nanny to take care of your kids at home. That was the norm for us. And your husband did not participate in household chores like changing diapers or cooking meals. You had to be really well organized to manage it all. You couldn’t waste any time on things that weren’t important.
WHAT WAS CLAUDE PAINCHAUD’S SECRET?
At this point in her life, we’re in the early 60s. And in those years, women were at home taking care of their children. So I was curious to ask her how she was perceived by others. Was she being judged by men and women in her entourage? Or admired?
In short, she admitted her path was rather exceptional for her time. But, she never felt judged in a bad way by people around her. However, she remembers hearing some of her fellow-men students say more than once: “You’re really nice and I like you a lot but I wouldn’t marry you because you’re too intelligent!” Those were the days…
While she never felt people were making her life difficult because she was a woman, or felt excluded in any way, Claude thinks it’s all a matter of attitude.
I always felt I needed to be the best, so that no one could attack me. You needed to be competent in this field of course. But I wanted to be more than just competent.
But how did she manage to do it all? In summary she says, “I’ve always been VERY well organized. I did not procrastinate, and knew how to be efficient when the time came.” It became very clear to me that Claude was, and still is, a woman of high energy. Something she admitted is needed when you want to take on as many tasks and projects in your life as she did.
HER ADVICE TO AMBITIOUS WOMEN WHO ALSO WANT TO RAISE A FAMILY?
- Prioritize: Concentrate your efforts on real priorities. “A little dust in the house never prevented me from sleeping.“
- Tough tasks first: Always start with the most difficult tasks, and the ones that require more energy.
- Don’t procrastinate: Avoid postponing deadlines.
- Be realistic: Not everyone has the same level of energy. You must be aware of what your physical capabilities are. Be realistic about what you’re getting into.
- Kids come first: Even if your career is important, when a choice has to be made, your kids should always come first. Or else so many problems can arise in the future.
I worked very hard in my life and did not have any time to waste. Which meant for example I didn’t have time to argue with my kids so that they would finish eating their meal or clean up their room. However, I did everything I could to take good care of them. I wanted to be there when it was important.
CLAUDE’S ADVICE AS A CHILD PSYCHIATRIST
Finally, I could not help but ask Claude, as a child psychiatrist, what advice she would give parents on how to best raise their kids today. Here is what instantly came to her mind when asked about it.
Turn your kids into adults, so they become independent. Your role is to show them the way, to bring them further in their lives. If they fall, don’t pick them up or they’ll never learn.
I always told my kids, “You may be brilliant, but if you’re not hard-working you won’t go far in life.” Kids should be taught to put in the effort according to their ability level. “My kids knew they could not come back home with poor school results.”
And last but not least, be able to say no to your kids.
CLAUDE PAINCHAUD, AN INSPIRING WOMAN TO ME
Thank you Claude Painchaud for sharing your story. You truly are a fascinating woman and a great role model. Your achievements and your approach to life translate what I wish for us all to be inspired by. To be bold, reach for our dreams and make them a reality.