Ottawa

Packed and proud, parents of Olympic hopefuls brush off Zika concerns

For the parents of Ottawa athletes Erica Wiebe, Michael Tayler and Natasha Watcham-Roy, the desire to be there for the big moment is more than enough to overcome any concerns about the risks of the Zika virus.
Paula Preston says she has no expectations, only high hopes for her daughter Erica Wiebe. (CBC)

Paula Preston has her bags — and Canadian flags — packed to cheer on her daughter Erica Wiebe at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

And like many parents heading to Brazil this week, the desire to be there for the big moment is more than enough to overcome any concerns about the risks of the Zika virus.

Paula Preston has a red and white theme for many of the items she is packing to cheer on her daughter Erica Wiebe at the 2016 Rio Games. (CBC)
Wiebe, from Stittsville, is the No. 2-ranked women's freestyle wrestler in the 75 kg class and a legitimate medal hope for Canada in Rio. And her family is all aboard in their desire to join her as she participates in her first Olympics.

"I hope that she wins gold!" said Preston. "Am I going to double my blood pressure medication? I don't know. But I do travel with my Kleenex boxes because I'll be in tears whether she wins or loses."

Officials in Rio downplayed the risk of Zika virus infections on Sunday, saying virus had dipped significantly in recent months.

Canadian wrestler Erica Wiebe, right, won gold in the women's 75-kg division at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)
The mosquito-borne virus has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect among babies of pregnant mothers infected by Zika, and its discovery in Brazil last year led to concern over the Games, which are expected to attract some 500,000 visitors.

"I'm at that age where I don't plan to be pregnant so Zika doesn't really bother me," said Preston.

But Wiebe's sister also made the decision to go to Rio and the risk of contracting Zika was something the family had to consider.

"That's something that we talked about and we made the decision we're going to support her sister," said Preston.

'It's a privilege to be part of it'

That sentiment was shared by Ottawa's Jim Tayler, whose son, slalom kayaker Michael Tayler, will be competing in his second Olympic Games.

Michael Tayler is competing in his second Olympic Games. (Photo courtesy Jim Tayler)
"It was never in our wildest dreams that it would happen but here we are heading off to our second Olympics and it's a privilege to be part of it," said the elder Tayler.

Tayler says Canadian Olympians are well looked after when they compete abroad, but parents do have a role to play too. 

We know that when you go into any part of the world there are things you need to pay attention to and Rio is no different.- Jim Tayler

"We give him the attention he wants, when he needs it. And that attention might be as simple as remembering to bring a few items that he's forgotten, which is not an unusual circumstance. And just letting him know that we're there in whatever he needs, we'll do our very best to provide," he said.

Jim Tayler said he doesn't think travelling to Rio will be different from any other trip to a foreign country. (CBC)
Jim Tayler said travelling to Brazil is no different than any other foreign travel. 

"We've travelled quite a bit and we know that when you go into any part of the world there are things you need to pay attention to and Rio is no different," he said.

Years of training pay off

Kathryn Watcham has already left for Rio to watch her daughter Natasha Watcham-Roy, also from Ottawa, compete in the rugby women's sevens.

On her way to the airport she told CBC News that along with all the other parents, she proud to see her child reach the Olympics after years of training.

"Tash started in grade nine, so she was 13, 14 and she was this skinny little thing whose brother had started playing," said Watcham.

"[She] trotted home and said 'I'm going to play rugby' and I went 'really?' and that's when it started," she said.

"The huge part is to see your child achieve their dreams."

The opening ceremonies for the Games kick off Friday.

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