The one thing Parapan swimmer has never feared is...
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Aug 06, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

The one thing Parapan swimmer has never feared is winning

Aurelie Rivard suffered panic attacks as a youngster. Now she holds Canadian records over a variety of distances

OurWindsor.Ca

Aurelie Rivard won a silver medal in her 400-metre freestyle event at the 2012 London Paralympics.

Not bad for a 16-year-old who, just a few years before that, suffered panic attacks before swim meets and would throw up on the pool deck.

“I was scared of everything,” Rivard recalls.

“I remember how I was and I don’t understand why I didn’t just quit. My mom said, ‘Why are you doing it if you don’t love it?’ I would say, ‘I’m going to do it, it’ll be fine,’ and it was never fine but I would do it again.”

The St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., swimmer didn’t quit but, for years, she did frustrate her coach by refusing to race any distance over 100 metres

“I was too afraid to do more than the 50-and 100-metre events. I was afraid to hurt.”

Her coach, France Latendresse, knew that the young swimmer’s strength would be in the longer distances and, eventually, Rivard relented.

Things started to turn around for her at the 2010 IPC swimming world championships in the Netherlands. She was 14 years old, far away from her family and more scared than she had ever been, but Rivard surprised herself by being able to sleep at night and train hard during the day.

“I was okay,” she says, smiling at the memory. “This is where I had realized that I had changed.”

Her coach saw it too and pounced on that confidence-building meet. Not long after, at the Quebec championships, convinced Rivard it was time to race 400 metres.

“I said, ‘Okay, I’ll try it.’ I was really scared but when I came out of the race I was like, ‘Well, that was fun, I’ll do it again.’”

She won that first 400, and her time — five minutes and 13 seconds — qualified her for international meets. A year later, at the London Paralympics, it was down to 4:36, an astounding improvement.

Today, Rivard says the 400 is her favourite event.

“I’m a long-distance swimmer,” she says, with a smile.

Rivard may feel that way, but her results in other events — and the number of Canadian freestyle records she holds from the 50 metres through to the 800 metres — would say she is impressively versatile in the pool.

She has lowered the 100-metre Canadian record several times. That record was previously held by Summer Mortimer, who was Canada’s sweetheart in the pool in London when she won four Paralympic medals, including two golds. She now competes for the Netherlands.

It is the 19-year-old Rivard who has become Canada’s young face of para swimming, joining such veterans as 19-time Paralympic medallist Benoit Huot.

Since her first Paralympics three years ago, when she won her silver medal and reached the final in four other events, Rivard has continued to find success. She won a team-high five medals at the 2013 world. In 2014 at the Pan Pacific Para-swimming championships, she won three gold medals (in the 50, 100 and 400), silver in the 100-metre backstroke and bronze in the 200 individual medley.

Rivard added two more world championships titles in July, winning both the 50- and 400-metre freestyle events in her S10 classification, and earned silver in the 100 free and the 200 individual medley.

It is the top step of the podium that she will be looking for at the Toronto Parapan Am Games.

The swimming competition runs Aug. 8-14.

Toronto Star

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