Canada's Stephanie Dixon inspired young Brazilian amputee
Journalist and cancer survivor overwhelmed to meet Canadian Paralympian in Rio
RIO DE JANEIRO — Nine years ago, on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2007, Canadian swimmer Stephanie Dixon won gold in the 100-metre backstroke at the Parapan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. Dixon finished the meet with six gold and one silver medal, crowning an incredible year for the three-time Paralympian after being named Ambassador of the Games, which Dixon describes as one of the biggest honours of her entire life.
Watching from the stands that night was 11-year-old Taiana Lopes.
"I had just lost my leg a year before and my parents took me to see the Games," recounts Lopes, now working as a journalist at the 2016 Paralympics.
The Rio native was struck by cancer when she was seven years old. She had a successful surgery to save her leg but when the disease returned two years later, the treatment could only do so much.
"I had to amputate my leg in order to stay alive."
Lopes, a keen swimmer at school, was worried she wouldn't be able to return to the pool following the loss of her leg and was unsure if her new disability would fit into a competitive classification.
"Until I saw Dixon," says Lopes, now 21. "Then I realized it wasn't impossible. It wasn't the disadvantage I thought it was."
"I was intrigued," she continues. "I was still adapting to my prosthetic and Stephanie didn't use one. So I thought about giving up using it."
'Dixon showed me...you can win'
"Stephanie showed me that when everything is against you, you can win," says Lopes who was unable to fulfil her swimming dream because of the long-term effects of the cancer treatment. "She beat her backstroke record and I took that as if it was my own, as if it was my own victory."
Then came the announcement that Rio would be the 2016 host city. Lopes says it was an accomplishment for both the country and herself.
"I wanted to take part in some way," she says. "I wanted to be here, whether it was as an athlete, as a journalist or as a volunteer."
Lopes is now in Rio working for Noticiário Paralímpico, an online platform covering Paralympic sport in Brazil. Last week she saw a photo on Facebook of Dixon working for the CBC in Rio. On Monday they met at the Aquatics Stadium just before finals.
"It was incredible. It was the key moment in the Games for me," says Lopes, who took time to talk to Dixon about what it might be like to no longer use her prosthetic.
For Dixon, the meeting with Lopes sums up the spirit of the Paralympics.
"It makes my heart smile so much," said the 32-year-old, who is working as a roving reporter at the Games for CBC Sports and is enjoying being on the other side of the pool deck. "To have someone see me and be inspired by that, it means everything. It's more important than the medals, it's about inspiring people. That what's the Paralympic Games are all about."
With files from the Canadian Paralympic Media Consortium