We talked to a trio of young champs to learn about what it takes to become a pro para-athlete, and how to have fun in between training sessions.
Rain may have forced Monday’s Parapan Swimming celebrations indoors, but it didn’t put a damper on the Canadian competitors’ spirits. In a small banquet room at the Sheraton Hotel, medal-winning athletes Morgan Bird, James Theroux, and Sarah Girard were surrounded by coaches, friends, and family, all eager to celebrate their record-breaking wins.
During the evening, each competitor was given a pin combining gold, silver, and bronze elements, illustrating the incredible achievements of all three levels of medallists.
We spoke with the young swimmers about what it takes to bring home a Parapan Am medal, what’s next for the Canadian para-swimming team, and how to maintain a normal teenage lifestyle when you’re stuck training in the pool every day.
In a room filled with excited energy, Sarah Girard’s is by far the most infectious. “It was just incredible,” gushes Girard about her bronze medal win. “This is my very first Parapan Am, and two weeks ago I was only seventh! Now I’m third, and I just won a medal, and I’m really, really happy.
Girard competed in the SB9 100 Breaststroke, placing behind Canadian teammate Aurelie Rivard (who in addition to her SB9 100 silver, has also won three gold medals during the games). Girard’s proudest moment came when the medal was placed around her neck. “Around the podium I had all my family and friends. It was really cool!”
Girard has only been swimming competitively for six years, and cites fellow Canadian para-swim team member Benoît Huot as a particular inspiration. When not winning medals, Girard likes shopping with friends, the Divergent series of books, watching the Toronto-filmed TV show Suits, and reading, of course, Seventeen magazine.
James Leroux could not have asked for a better result to his SB9 100m breaststroke race: he took home the gold medal, set a Parapan Am Games record, and was joined on the podium by fellow teammates Isaac Bouckley and Alexander Elliott, who placed second and third respectively. A emotional gif of the trio grabbing hands and celebrating their victory while still in the pool was well circulated on Twitter Sunday night.
Leroux remembers the instant he realized he’d won ParaPan gold: “When I [touched] the wall, and I heard everybody cheering from the stands, it made me so proud to be a Canadian.”
Next up for Leroux is the Men’s 4x100m Medley Relay on Friday, before he sets his sights on the next competition. Leroux has travelled the world, competing in many international events, and cites Indonesia as his favourite stop so far.
Leroux was calm and contemplative throughout the evening at the Sheraton, as was his advice to his fellow athletes going forward in the games: “You just need to focus. Rest, and stay focused on your nerves.”
This Regina-born athlete had a stellar showing Sunday, winning gold medals in the S8 400-metre freestyle and the 50 freestyle and setting Parapan Am records for both events in the process. During the 400-metre race, Bird finished seconds ahead of her nearest competitor, a huge feat in a sport like swimming. No stranger to high stakes competitions, Bird has previously represented Canada at the Commonwealth Games and Pan Pacific Para-Swimming Championships.
In a day filled with excitement, Bird had trouble remembering the exact moment she knew she’d won gold: “[Sunday] was a really busy night for me and now it’s just all a blur. It felt so surreal to be able to finish first!”
Bird credits the energy from a hometown crowd as a major factor in her record-setting races. “The crowd was definitely a huge part of [winning]. To know that everybody was screaming for you, it just gave you that extra push.”
The crowd may have contributed, but it was her hard work and dedication that led her to the podium. “I’m swimming sometimes twice a day,” explains Bird, “and I also have to do weightlifting–we call that “dry land”–and that’s 2-3 times a week.” Despite her busy schedule, she finds time to water ski and watch movies; anything with Channing Tatum or Ryan Gosling are particular favourites. Same Morgan, same.