– by Shelley Gautier
Celebrating the empowerment possibilities of ideas, science and creativity, the Paralympic Games returned to Britain, where the movement began in 1948 as the Stoke-Mandeville Games, running in parallel with the London Olympics.
I took the journey to London, as did 4,200 athletes from 166 countries, to discover what it was like to be an athlete helping others with the journey of discovery. I joined a group of athletes whose performances were made possible and enhanced by ideas, science and creativity that were celebrated at the opening ceremony. Paralympic athletes who competed in London were able to get people to think of sport and disability in a way never thought of before. All the athletes inspired the people of the world. We were able to transform perceptions about those who are disabled.
My own experiences at the Paralympics were spectacular. When I started training for the Paralympics four years ago, triking was a new sport. Previously it was not thought that people with my level of disability could compete in cycling. So triking is a new sport, particularly for women, just at the beginning of its paralympic journey. I feel like I am a trailblazer. Because of the newness of the sport men and women must compete against each other to keep the sport alive. In triking disabilities are categorized as T1 and T2, with T1 being the more disabled and T2 being the less disabled. In London the men and women and T1 and T2 athletes competed all together. I have hopes of encouraging more T1 and T2 women in particular to participate at paracycling World Cup events. There is also the ultimate hope of having separate male and female trike categories in Rio at the 2016 Games.
In London, I did not win a medal. However I won and feel good about having done the following for myself and for Canada:I came in as second female at the Time Trial race. I came in as first T1 female in the Time Trial and Road Races. I enjoyed the moment, knowing that I did the best that I could in an event dominated by males. Hoping to improve, I will be there to challenge trikers in the next Paralympics. I have been very fortunate to have received a huge amount of support from many friends in Toronto and the Canadian paracycling team coaches and organization.
The Paralympics are an experience to learn from. I have learned lots about my sport and the sports of other athletes. I am extremely proud to have represented Canada (and the University of Toronto) in the trike category at the London 2012 Paralympics.
Shelley was a multi-sport athlete in hockey, soccer and a ranked mountain biker while she studied at UofT to become a physical therapist in the mid 1990’s. In 2001 an accident left the right side of her body paralyzed. A true fighting spirit, she refused to let her disability keep her from competing and living.