Another year, another banner season in the books for Aurélie Rivard.
Further cementing her status as one of the greatest Canadian Para athletes of all-time, the 23-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., has been named Swimming Canada’s Female Para Swimmer of the Year for 2019, the fourth such recognition of her illustrious career.
Rivard, who was previously honoured three straight times from 2014 to 2016, is now tied with former teammate Valérie Grand’Maison for most women’s titles since the modern Big Splash Awards were created in 2006.
“That’s very cool. I didn’t know there was a ‘record’ and I tied it. Valérie is a great athlete who I got to spend four years with and I really admired her,” said Rivard, who trains out of Montreal’s High Performance Centre – Quebec with coach Mike Thompson.
“Winning an award like this one is not something you ever get used to. At first, it was validation of my hard work and my successes in the pool. It’s quite an honour. Now, after 10 years on the national team, sometimes it’s harder to find sources of motivation, and this is one. It validates that everything I do is worth it and that my federation still supports me. We know how important that is in a career.”
Rivard’s success in the pool over the past decade has been well documented. Her exploits include five medals in two trips to the Paralympic Games, three of them gold at Rio 2016, where she was Canada’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremonies. She holds the long-course world records in the 50, 100, 200 and 400-m freestyle S10.
In her biggest competition of 2019, the World Para Swimming Championships at London in September, she captured five medals (2-1-2), including triumphs in the 50 and 100-m free S10, upping her career total to 14 podium finishes in four appearances since she made her worlds debut at age 14 in 2010.
“Aurélie’s performances at world championships were a testament to her professionalism, determination and commitment to being the best,” said Thompson. “I was exceptionally proud of her at worlds and it’s a pleasure to work with her every day.”
Wayne Lomas, Swimming Canada’s Associate Director of High Performance and Para Swimming National Coach, was also impressed with the national team veteran’s achievements in the U.K.’s capital.
“Aurélie demonstrated yet again what a true champion she is. Her dominance in the sprint freestyle events, coupled with medal-winning swims in two other events, showed everyone that she is a truly world-class performer.
“For me, a true indication of Aurélie’s class was her third-leg swim in the 4×100 freestyle relay, where she swam almost a second faster for her nation than she had in winning the individual 100 free earlier in the week. That performance, which helped the team capture bronze, best demonstrated her character, class and the passion she has for competing for Canada.”
Thanks to her successes in London, Rivard was nominated to the Canadian Paralympic Committee to make her third Paralympic Games appearance at Tokyo 2020.
“Obviously, the season leading up to a Paralympic year is always very important for confidence,” said Rivard. “It sets you up for the coming year. It allowed me to see where I am compared to my rivals, what I need to put more work into. We’re in the final stretch, so whatever I can do to be 100 per cent ready nine months from now, I’ll do it.”
Never one to be fully satisfied, the Canadian superstar gave herself a modest 7 when asked to evaluate her season on a scale of 1 to 10.
“It was an eventful year. I didn’t achieve all the goals I had set for myself. Despite that, I had good moments, like getting back some of my world titles and two surprise medals at the tail end of worlds. Since Rio, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to details, like starts, turns, etc. It makes a big difference in the end and I think I did that well.”
Like Lomas, Rivard is especially proud of the relay bronze medal claimed in London alongside long-time teammates Katarina Roxon and Tess Routliffe as well as world championship rookie Abi Tripp.
“We’ve been working on this relay since 2014, working to get on the podium. Over the past five years, we’ve had a lot of fourth and fifth positions. This year, for the first time, we spent a lot of time on relays leading up to worlds. During our camp in France, we did relay-only trainings. We tried new things. And it worked. I’m proud of our perseverance and the work we put in as a team. It’s also fun to share all of this with my best friends.”
Is more international glory in store for Rivard and her friends in 2020? The answer in nine months.