By Jim Morris
Every time Aurélie Rivard dives into the water the one person she really wants to beat is herself.
Rivard holds four Para-swimming world records in the S10 class. Working to lower the time in those records helps keep the competitive fires burning in the 22-year-old from St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que.
“My goal every year is to beat myself, beat my own personal time,” said Rivard, who trains at the High Performance Centre – Quebec. “Now it happens they are world records. I’m always trying to break my world records. It’s not a goal but a motivation.”
Bettering her own world record in the 100-metre freestyle “or getting as close as possible” is on Rivard’s to-do list at the Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championships which begin Aug. 9 in Cairns, Australia. She came close during the Canadian Swimming Trials in Edmonton, finishing just 0.35 of a second off the mark of one minute, 00.42 seconds.
Each pool session will be live streamed on the Swimming Australia Website, Swimming Australia YouTube page and the Australian Dolphins Facebook page. Swimming Canada will also have updates on Twitter throughout the meet.
In June, Rivard broke her 200-m freestyle record twice in one day at the Para swimming World Series stop in Berlin, lowering the time to 2:08.64. “That event, I do it no more than once a year,” said Rivard. “Every year I try to beat it. So far I have succeeded. I broke it last year, I broke it this summer. Next summer I will try to break it again.”
Rivard also set world records in the 50-m and 400-m freestyle at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games where she won three gold and a silver medal. The second place came in the 200-m individual medley.
The Parapans will be a good test for Rivard. She will be swimming against New Zealand’s Sophie Pasco and Australia’s Monique Murphy, two of her closest rivals. “For me it’s no different than the world championships,” said Rivard, who was born missing her left hand. “The preparation is the same as if I’m heading into the worlds.”
Rivard’s Rio performance, she was the Canadian flag bearer at the closing ceremonies and earned her the recognition as one of the world’s top Para-swimmers. Joining the HPC in Montreal, and training under head coach Mike Thompson, has helped further hone her talents.
The training environment at the centre is more demanding with an emphasis on improving technical skills. There are also more resources to help swimmers both in and out of the water. “She’s improved across the board,” said Thompson. “The biggest thing that has improved for her is attitude and just general well being. She seems like she’s a lot happier. A lot of things are taken care for her so she doesn’t have to worry about that.”
Rivard and Thompson also have a better understanding of each other. “Our relationship has come a long way,” he said. “I think she trusts me. She knows I’m out for her best interests.”
Rivard enjoys the comradery the centre has created. “What I like is we’re only six swimmers,” she said. “We are able to have specific training. We get to spend more time with Mike, we get to develop an actual coach and athlete relationship. I train with my teammates, my friends. It’s a lot more motivating to be surrounded by people who have the same goals as you.”
Motivation is something Rivard has struggled with recently. “I’ve been on the team for 10 years, I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do,” she said. “I’ve been to the Paralympics, I’ve won gold, I’ve broke world records. Sometimes I wonder why I’m still doing that, what’s left to do? It’s harder every year.”
What keeps Rivard going is her passion for swimming and her desire to improve. “I just want to be better than what I was the previous year,” she said. “I went to defend my title. I like winning. That’s what I’m looking forward too.”
Thompson doesn’t doubt Rivard is capable of breaking both her 100-m and 400-m records in Australia. “It’s possible,” he said. “It’s whether she decides she can or not. She’s very confident. I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens.”
Rivard plans to keep swimming until the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. After that her future is cloudy.
“I try not to think about this,” she said. “I want to get to Tokyo. Afterwards I’m not planning on retiring but I don’t know if I’m going to keep going either. I cannot tell you I’m going to be in Paris in six years. I guess I’m going to go year by year (and) see what happens in my life.”
For over half her life swimming has been Rivard’s main focus.
“Everything I do is for swimming, any decision I make and trips that I do,” she said. “My friends are all swimmers. It’s going to be really hard to let all that go. I don’t know yet if I’m going to find something I love as much. I hope so.”