It’s a London reunion seven years in the making.
Among the 18 Canadians set to compete at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships from Sept. 9-15, four women will be making a return to the London Aquatics Centre, where they once raced for Paralympic glory.
Part of the national team’s impressive youth movement in 2012, Camille Bérubé, Morgan Bird, Aurélie Rivard and Katarina Roxon are now seasoned veterans heading into the ninth edition of the para worlds, which double as the first qualifying event for Tokyo 2020.
The elder stateswoman of the group, by five months over Bird, Roxon was actually making her second Paralympic Games appearance seven years ago, having previously competed in Beijing at the tender age of 15 back in 2008.
“It’s crazy to think I’ve been at this for so long, that it’s been over 10 years since my first Paralympic Games,” says the now 26-year-old Roxon, who was one of Canada’s busiest athletes at London 2012, racing in eight events and reaching one final. “I’m still enjoying it though. Every experience, every trip, I learn something new.
“Going to major international competitions definitely doesn’t get old. Each time I get an opportunity to race for Canada, it’s a gift. Not that many people get to do that, representing their country on the world stage and trying to be the best in the world.”
The proud native of Kippens, Newfoundland, who still trains in her home province under the guidance of her father, Leonard, has a history of shining on the big stage.
She achieved every Paralympian’s dream at Rio 2016 when she captured gold and set a national mark in her specialty event, the 100-m breaststroke SB8, and had previously claimed a remarkable six medals at the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto, including gold in the 100-m breast, also in Canadian record time. Her stellar resume also includes four previous appearances and a pair of medals at the world championships, including bronze in the 100-m breast in 2015 and silver in the 4×100-m freestyle relay in 2013.
At the upcoming worlds, Roxon is set to compete in the 100-m breaststroke, 100-m freestyle and 200-m individual medley.
“I haven’t been able to achieve personal bests in those events the past couple of years. So for me, I would love to set PBs in London, especially in the 100-m breaststroke,” says the current Canadian and Americas long course record holder in the 50, 100 and 200-m breast SB8. “If I can get PBs in all my events, that would obviously be amazing. And, of course, get on the podium. If those pieces fall together, I’ll be super happy.”
Bird, who trains out of Montreal’s High Performance Centre – Quebec with coach Mike Thompson, also cherishes every opportunity she gets to wear the maple leaf.
“Going to world championships is always an amazing experience. Any time you have the chance to represent Canada, for me, it’s very important and very meaningful,” says the Regina native who now calls Calgary home. “I never take it for granted because I know it takes a lot of work to get there. I’m just really grateful to be on this team and to be able to represent Canada.”
In London, Bird will swim in four individual events including the 50-m freestyle S8, an event in which she holds the national standard and claimed silver at the 2013 worlds in Montreal, where she also helped Canada to a second-place finish in the 4×100-m free relay.
“I don’t really have a specific goal for London. Just being able to perform to the best of my abilities is something that I’m working towards,” says the soon-to-be 26-year-old, who won a pair of gold medals at the 2015 Parapan Am Games, made seven finals in two Paralympic Games appearances, and currently holds three Canadian long course marks. “Whether it turns out to be a personal best or a podium, I can’t predict that. I just want to give everything I have and be proud of myself.”
Bérubé, 24, travels to the UK’s capital on the strength of a solid performance at the Canadian Trials back in April in Toronto, where she picked up four multi-class medals and set a personal best in the 50-m butterfly S7, of one four individual races she will compete in at worlds.
Like Roxon, she has a hard time believing how time seems to have flown by since the London Paralympics.
“I was 17 at my first Paralympic Games and 21 at my second,” says the University of Ottawa graduate, who trains in her hometown of Gatineau, Que., at Natation Gatineau, with coach Craig McCord. “People often make me realize that, but it’s like I can’t get my head around it. In my mind, I’m still like the young recruit who joined the national team at 14. But today, I am considered one of the veterans on the team.”
In 2013, in her second and most recent world championship appearance, Bérubé reached the final in her four events, improving her personal best time by seven seconds in the 200-m individual medley SM7.
“At these worlds, my goal is definitely to achieve personal bests. There are so many things we can’t control outside of that,” says the multiple Paralympian, Parapan Am Games medallist and Canadian record holder.
Rivard, of course, is the most decorated member of the foursome. Then again, the 23-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., is one of the most decorated Para-swimmers of all-time, period.
Her exploits over the past decade, since she made her world championship debut in 2010 at age 14, have been well documented. They include, to name only a few, five medals in two trips to the Paralympic Games, including three gold at Rio 2016, and nine world championship podium finishes, including a pair of individual titles in 2015.
Not to mention, of course, the numerous Canadian (6), Americas (6) and world (4) long course records Rivard currently holds. She heads to London as the fastest woman on the planet in the 50, 100, 200 and 400-m freestyle S10.
What motivates her going into her fourth worlds, where she’ll line up in the 50, 100 and 400-m free and the 100-m backstroke?
“I have titles to defend, you could say, since we didn’t compete in 2017, and I really want to do it,” says Rivard, who, like Bird, trains at CHP-Quebec in Montreal. “But my main goal is to swim faster than I’ve ever done. It’s always my priority. I can’t control the performances of my rivals, so I’m going to London with the goal of breaking my world records.”
LONDON 2019: The 2019 World Para Swimming Championships, which run from Sept. 9-15 at the London Aquatics Centre, will serve as the first qualifying event for the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Webcast will be available on the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Swimming Canada Facebook Live platforms. Camille Bérubé is set to compete in the 100-m backstroke S7, 100-m breaststroke SB6, 50-m butterfly S7 and 200-m individual medley SM7; Morgan Bird will swim the 50, 100 and 400-m freestyle S8 and the 100-m butterfly S8; Aurélie Rivard will line up in the 50, 100 and 400-m freestyle S10 and the 100-m backstroke S10; Katarina Roxon will race in the 100-m freestyle S9, 100-m breaststroke SB8 and 200-m individual medley SM9.