News & Articles

Rivard makes history with fifth Female Para Swimmer of the Year award

News –

Aurélie Rivard was as dominant as ever in her last major competition before the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming five medals – two gold, one silver and two bronze – at the London 2019 World Para Swimming Championships.

Last summer in Tokyo, she managed to step it up a notch in her return to the international stage, finishing her third Paralympic Games with the exact same medal haul while also lowering her own world records in the 100 and 400-m freestyle S10 events.

This sensational performance in the Japanese capital earned the 25-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., the fifth Swimming Canada Female Swimmer of the Year – Paralympic Program nod of her illustrious career, setting a new record in the category.

Former national team great Valérie Grand’Maison merited the honour four times between 2006 and 2013.

“I didn’t know. I had never thought about that. I’m humbled,” said Rivard, who had previously won the Big Splash award in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019. “When I think back to the little girl I was when I started swimming, I would never have thought I’d earn such recognition.”

In addition to dealing with the effects of the global pandemic, which would come a few months later, Rivard’s preparation for Tokyo took an interesting turn following the 2019 worlds when she felt the need to make major changes to her training environment.

In January 2020, she moved from Montreal to Quebec City to join the Club de Natation Région de Québec led by coach Marc-André Pelletier. The gamble ended up paying big dividends.

“The past two years have been anything but relaxing. Looking back, I went through so much change and so many new challenges so close to the Games. The pandemic has also brought its share of difficulties. I had to adapt quickly to a constantly changing reality.

“So yes, my performance in Tokyo makes me very proud considering the process to get to the podium.”

Rivard and Pelletier agree the postponement of the Games from 2020 to 2021 ended up being beneficial to their new partnership.

“When I started training with Marc-André, I saw a difference within 10 days. So the extra year definitely paid off. I knew I was going to Tokyo to break my records,” said Rivard.

Her third Paralympics didn’t exactly start as planned, however.

On the first day of swimming competition at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, she placed third in the final of the 50-m freestyle. A medal to kick off the Games would have been considered an awesome start by most, but Rivard was the defending champion from Rio 2016 in the event.

The disappointment was short-lived.

Three days later, in her next event, Rivard broke the world record not once but twice in the 100 m free on her way to defending her Paralympic crown. Another four days later, she repeated as Paralympic champion in the 400 free, again shattering her own world standard.

“After the 50 free, I was extremely disappointed. I didn’t understand what had happened. The biggest impact was the damage to my confidence for the rest of the competition. I wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

“Over the next 48 hours I used all my tools to fight the fear and the doubt I was feeling and transform it into motivation. It was the hardest thing I had done in a long time. A few minutes before the 100, I was shaking in the call room. That performance in that race goes beyond my ability to swim fast in my opinion, and that’s why it’s so special to me.”

After Tokyo, Rivard took three months to rest. She explains she needed to get away from the world of swimming.

She used the opportunity to take part in a number of events, speak at conferences, travel a little and see her friends.

“I resumed training more seriously in January, in addition to returning to school. I try to have a better balance between the two.”

Rivard is gearing up to reclaim her spot on Team Canada at the Bell Canadian Swimming Trials April 5-10 in Victoria. Next up on the international Para swimming calendar are the world championships in June in Portugal, where she will be looking to add to her remarkable career haul of 14 medals at the event.

“I realize I won’t be at the level I was at in Tokyo for the worlds, which are relatively early this year,” said Rivard. “So I adjust my goals based on that. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself.

“I want to enjoy the return of international competitions, travel and a relative normalcy. I’ll see how qualifying goes and then I’ll think about the worlds.”