Aurélie Rivard reflects on golden week in Rio
Paralympic swimmer made her mark with 4 medals for Canada
RIO DE JANEIRO — It's 3 a.m., Brazil time on Friday, Sept. 9, 2016. The athlete's village has turned in for the night but in a corner of the quiet, one Paralympian can't close her eyes.
Eight hours previous, Aurélie Rivard had touched the wall at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium to claim her first of three gold medals at the Rio Games and she doesn't want to go to sleep.
"I was wide awake," said Rivard back at the pool Saturday evening to cheer on her teammates on the last day of competition. "I could have went for a 40-kilometre run. I was on a high. I was super hyper."
The happiness pulsing through the 20-year-old's body was in stark contrast to the anxiety-laden build-up to the 2016 Paralympics. Great things have been expected of Rivard ever since she won silver in the 400-metre freestyle at the 2012 London Games, at just 16.
"I was really nervous because I didn't know what to expect from me. I didn't know if I was ready or not," said the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., native. "I knew that I was but I was always having doubts."
Swimming Canada's female para-swimmer of the year in 2014 and 2015 was unofficially appointed Canada's face of the Games and it clearly took its toll. Rivard describes the past 12 months as mentally tough, with periods of strong confidence giving way to deep doubt and fear of losing.
Focusing on the moment
"I was really trying to not overthink the whole competition," said the S10 athlete reflecting on the days between her arrival in Rio and the first plunge into the Paralympic pool. "I was trying to focus on the moment. I didn't want to think too far."
Then came gold in the 50 freestyle on day two of the Games and everything changed.
"In 30 seconds [27.37 to be exact], my mood switched completely."
It was the first of two world records – Rivard would go on to break the best in the 400 freestyle in her last race. She also stood atop the podium for the 100 freestyle and finished runner-up to an unbeatable Sophie Pascoe in the 200 individual medley. Watching the newly relaxed swimmer achieve her goals and dreams from the stands in Brazil were Rivard's mother and father.
"I'm not someone who cries but when I saw my parents in the stands from the podium it's when I realized what had just happened, it really hit me so hard," said Rivard who explains that while she wanted all of the success she had, she didn't expect it. "When I saw them, it was just perfect, I really wanted to share that moment with them."
In accounting for her triumphs, which includes being named Canada's flag-bearer for the closing ceremony, Rivard tips her cap to mentor Benoit Huot. The 32-year-old crowned his own Paralympic career with a 20th and final medal on Thursday night and his young teammate says he's always been there since they first met when she was 12.
"He took my hand and led me on this big adventure."
Ready for next chapter
The next chapter in Rivard's adventure will be a less eventful one. For starters, she is looking forward to getting home to, "my bed, my car, my food."
"Poutine is the first thing I'm going to have once I land."
Having spent two years taking pain medication to carry an injury in both shoulders, Rivard plans to take a break and return to the pool full-time in January. That may entail surgery but it will certainly include some, "living as a normal person a little bit."
"I need to rest my mind, my brain, my body," she said. "I need to live to something different than swimming."
"I have a twin sister [Charlotte] and she's really living the life. She goes to university, she has her own apartment so I'm going to try and stick with her a bit more and try to really enjoy what I've missed for the past four years."
At just 20, Rivard has five Paralympic medals and sits at the top of her game. She says it will take a while to come down from the highs of Rio but is looking forward to catching up on school among other things.
"I don't know about the future but I'm ready for it."
Who knows, she may even get some sleep.
With files from Canadian Paralympic Media Consortium