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What a difference a year made for Leroux

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At the same time last year, the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships weren’t exactly top of mind for James Leroux.

The 2016 Paralympian from Repentigny, Que., was in the midst of a challenging season. So challenging, in fact, that he decided he needed some time away from the pool… and the gym.

“I had a difficult year last year. We tried to tweak my program a little,” explains Leroux, who will be one of 18 Canadian athletes competing from Sept. 9-15 at the London Aquatics Centre, one of the main venues of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. “We tried some new things in training, more time at the gym. I was going to the gym five times a week. I’m someone who bulks up easily when I hit the gym, and it got to a point where I was too heavy for my event.”

That event, the 100-m breaststroke, had been Leroux’s bread and butter ever since he broke in with the national team. At 17, he was crowned Parapan American Games SB9 champion in Toronto. A year later, he reached the Paralympic final in Rio, finishing seventh in Canadian record time.

“I didn’t make the Pan Pacific Championships last summer. But in my head, I thought, let’s put that aside. Let’s focus on next summer, on 2019. The Tokyo Games are still two years away.

“I took about a six-week break, without training. It really did a world of good. I came back in September and I was ready to go back to training, I couldn’t wait to get back to it. And it worked.”

Leroux, who trains out of Montreal’s High Performance Centre – Quebec with coach Mike Thompson, slowly regained the form that had once made him one of the faces of the Paralympic program and all the pieces finally fell into place at last April’s Canadian Trials in Toronto, where the now 21-year-old punched his ticket to London by lowering his own national standard in the 100-m breast SB9 to 1:09.24.

“Things are going well right now,” Leroux said after claiming multi-class gold in his favourite race. “I have good momentum. I’m really happy.”

Needing a mental or physical break is not something Leroux had been used to since he made his Para-swimming debut six years ago, somewhat reluctantly he admits.

“I was about 15 when my coach at the time suggested I give Para-swimming a try because, due to my handicap, a clubfoot with atrophy on my left leg, it was becoming harder and harder for me to keep up. At first, the idea didn’t really appeal to me. He told me ‘These are new goals, a new program. If you don’t like it, we’ll just get out, don’t worry about it’.

“Looking back, I really can’t complain. I made the world championship team at 17, then the Paralympics the following year. I had new goals, it’s going well, I’m having fun, meeting lots of new people, travelling the world.”

Now, on the eve of his second world championship appearance, Leroux is determined to make the most of what could well be the most productive years of his athletic career.

“For sure, I feel like I’m entering an important part of my career. In Rio, I was young. I was more in the group that was targeted for Tokyo. Rio was like a bonus, to gain experience, and it worked.

“I have really matured since those Games. The following year, I joined the High Performance Centre in Montreal and since then, my view of the sport has really changed. I honestly feel I continue to mature every day. My mindset has changed going into this summer’s worlds and Tokyo 2020.”

In terms of expectations for London, the young national team veteran isn’t afraid to set the bar high for himself.

“If I set a personal best at worlds, I’ll be pleased. But my biggest goal, which in my opinion is achievable, is to get on the podium. That’s really my main goal.”

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. James Leroux is set to compete in the 100-m breaststroke SB9.