Nfld. & Labrador

Tokyo Paralympics travel decision sidelines Katarina Roxon's biggest fans: her family

In a few months, swimming star Katarina Roxon will be heading to Tokyo to represent Canada at the Paralympic Games — but she'll be doing so without her closest supporters.

Family staying in Kippens after international travel ban enacted

Paralympic gold medallist Katarina Roxon of Kippens, N.L., will head to Tokyo this summer for the Paralympic Games, but she won't have her family by her side. (Katarina Roxon/Twitter)

In a few months, swimming star Katarina Roxon will be heading to Tokyo to represent Canada at the Paralympic Games — but she'll be doing so without her closest supporters.

Fans and volunteers from outside Japan have been banned from attending the Tokyo games this year, with officials from Japan and the International Olympic Committee saying it's too great a risk to admit international attendees during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

For the Paralympic gold medal swimmer from Kippens, N.L., it's disappointing, though Roxon said she's glad her family will be safe cheering on from home.

"It's definitely disappointing, but it's good to know that they'll be home, they'll be safe, they can watch it online or on TV, and they can watch it with different family and friends as well," Roxon said.

The games had originally been planned as a family affair for the Roxons — "my mom, my dad, my sister and her fiancé, and we had a few friends as well planning to come to Tokyo to watch," she said — but 2021 won't be the first time Roxon has swum solo.

In 2016, her family wasn't able to go to the Games in Rio de Janeiro, where Roxon won gold in the 100-metre breaststroke. They had hoped to be there this year in Tokyo.

"It definitely helps you mentally, being able to see your family while you're competing and knowing that your family's there," said Roxon.

Roxon won her gold Paralympic medal in Rio de Janeiro. Her family had been unable to attend and they had hoped to change that in 2021. (Scott Grant/Canadian Paralympic Committee)

Despite the vast distance that will be between them, she said there are plans to stay as close as possible. 

"Not being able to see them, going to Tokyo, I know I'll be talking to them every single day," she said. "I'll be talking to them more than if they were in Tokyo."

Grateful for a crowd

While Roxon is disappointed that she won't be able to see her family in the crowd, she won't be the only athlete unable to do so. The ban means any Olympic and Paralympic event will be packed with Japanese fans only, and Roxon said she expects them to be rooting for their own athletes above others.

"The Japanese crowd is going to cheer for the Japanese athletes; that's just how it is for any country," said Roxon.

"I have a few Japanese swimmers in my races, so mentally it's about taking the atmosphere and the vibe from the crowd and knowing they're not cheering for me to win, they're cheering for my competitor to win."

Even though crowds may be cheering for her competitors, Roxon said the atmosphere is still a big part of pushing herself to perform at her best, and she'll use the crowd's energy to her advantage as much as possible.

"I'm going to take this and push myself, because having a crowd there — it doesn't matter if it's for you, or if it's for somebody else — is so important to the race," she said.

"A lot of times, it's what drives you."

The Games have already been postponed by a year due to the pandemic. With the new spectator rules, Roxon said she's thankful there will be any fans in the stadium at all.

"I'm truly grateful that they're even having the crowd, because if it was just an empty stadium, that would be very hard to compete at a game," she said.

Though friends, family, and Canadian spectators will have to cheer her on from home, Roxon said she's grateful for the support she's received from all of Newfoundland and Labrador, even from so far away.

"That's a big push for me that happened in Rio, was knowing I had this amazing Newfoundland crowd cheering me on, and I got amazing messages and texts, even from random strangers," she said.

"So I know I have a great crowd cheering me on from back home when I'm in Tokyo."

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