I wanted a car that lasts forever
She’s the only trampoline gymnast to win a medal at every Olympic game in which she has competed. She captured silver and carried the Canadian flag at the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Clearly, Karen Cockburn is predictable and reliable — just like her wheels. That’s why the gymnast still drives the first car she ever bought — a 2001 Honda Civic coupe.
“I bought the car when I was 20. I wasn’t in the market for an amazing car. There’s nothing special about it — it’s just a normal car. I don’t have a sunroof — it’s pretty basic. I’m not really interested in cars,” says the 28-year-old Canadian and world champion.
“It says I’m reliable and classic. I like stuff that’s going to last. I guess it’s the same with my car — it’s a reflection of me.
‘I bought the car when I was 20,’ Karen Cockburn says.
“It’s conservative. But it’s a two-door, so I guess it’s kind of sporty. But it’s not flashy or anything. That’s not really my personality either. My car is black and that’s kind of me with my clothes,” says Cockburn, who’s wearing black from head to toe.
Like an athlete, longevity is key. “My coach and his wife had a Honda and they last forever. I wanted a car that lasts forever.
“And I knew I wanted something that was okay on gas. I haven’t had to put too much maintenance into it and it’s still going fine.”
As soon as she turned 16, Cockburn got her licence. “My parents were happy ’cause I could drive to practice myself and they didn’t have to chauffeur me around any more.”
Cockburn began trampolining at 11. She started her career as a diver and used the trampoline to rehearse, but later switched to trampolining.
“When I got my licence, I was driving my parents’ car. It was a 1997 Pontiac Sunfire, which my dad still has, but needs to trade in.
“My parents always had American cars — a Chevy Cavalier, a Pontiac Sunfire, a Ford Taurus. I’m like, come on, go for something different!
“They love the Honda, but I don’t think I’ve completely converted them to buy one — they prefer to stick to the tried-and-true thing.”
On the road, Cockburn is a cautious driver, but she faces obstacles in some areas. “All my accidents have happened — not that I’ve had tons — but they’re all in parking lots.
“I’ve never had an accident on a major road — always on a parking lot, like backing into a pole, backing into another car, just not paying attention. I drove over an island once and wrecked the bottom.
“It’s always a parking lot! That’s embarrassing.”
Cockburn has a hectic practice schedule year round; she also attends many charity events. As a result, she’s often on the road.
“I spend a lot of time in my car. There are days when I feel like I’m living in my car so I always have my gym clothes and a change of wardrobe in my car,” says the Toronto native, who now calls Stouffville, Ont., home.
Her husband, fellow Olympian and former training partner Mathieu Turgeon, who’s now a chiropractor, has other complaints about her car.
“I’ll leave a drink in the car and he’ll just freak out. If he gets in the car and there’s a little bit of garbage, he gets so mad at me! And I’m like, what?”
Turgeon jumps in: “There’s like apple cores and bananas!”
She banters back, “Okay, one time there might have been an apple core because I forgot to take it in. You make it sound like my car is a cesspool of disease. It’s not!” They laugh.
Turgeon drives a 1998 Pontiac Bonneville, passed down from his dad. “It’s in good shape.
“It doesn’t have any rust or anything; we had the suspension redone a few years ago. It’s not that great on gas, but it’s a pretty powerful, nice car, though.
“It’s in great working condition, except for the radio — the LCD display doesn’t always come on. It’s very finicky; it only works when it wants to work.”
Cockburn interjects, “And that’s why I push the Honda.
“My parents had so much trouble with their cars all the time,” says Cockburn, who tied the knot with Turgeon last December.
While Turgeon hopes to change cars next year, Cockburn can’t imagine parting with her Honda. “I could have traded it in, but it’s my first car. It has sentimental value and you grow attached to it.”
She has a solution. “I was trying to make a deal with my husband. If we traded my husband’s car, he would take my car and I get the new car. Of course, it works that way,” she laughs.
Both agree that their new car has “got to be a fuel-efficient, smaller car like a Honda Fit,” Turgeon says.
“I like that because we’re athletic and all the different configurations are useful,” Cockburn adds.
But something small, domestic and impractical has already caught their eyes. “Me and Matt were driving — I was in front and he was behind me. We passed a car dealership and there was a [Pontiac] Solstice,” Cockburn says.
“I’m looking out the window and thinking, yeah I’d like to get into that car. And Matt calls me and he’s like, ‘Hey, look out the window. See that car? Can’t you see me driving off to clinic in that thing?’ Hey, I was just thinking — couldn’t you see me driving to the gym in that?” she asks, laughing.