Shelley Gautier’s dream was to be a physiotherapist at the Olympics.
With that goal in mind, the avid cyclist and soccer player attended the University of Western Ontario and earned an honours physical-education degree. She followed that up with an honours degree in physical therapy at the University of Toronto.
Working with various sports teams, the Niagara Falls native was on her way to achieving that goal when disaster struck in 2001. While mountain biking in Vermont, she fell off her bike and suffered a serious head injury.
She was hospitalized in the United States and was transferred back to Toronto hospital one day before the 9-11 terrorist attacks. She ended up spending eight months in hospital.
“I became a paraplegic and my memory was bad back then,” she said. “I had to relearn how to walk and to talk.”
The Falls Sports Wall of Fame member — she played goalie on the A.N. Myer girls soccer team that won OFSAA gold in 1985 — was determined to regain as much as her life as possible.
“It was the idea that I wanted to be the best I could be,” the Toronto resident said.
When she finally left the hospital, it wasn’t long before she returned to athletic pursuits. After a long journey, the now 46-year-old achieved her life-long dream only as an athlete, not a physiotherapist.
“My goal was to go to the Olympics as a physiotherapist and I ended up going to the 2012 paralympics in London as an athlete so that was kind of nice,” she said.
Competing in the T1 para-cycling division in London, she ended up 11th in the time trials and also raced in the road race. Male and female competitors in both T1 and T2 (lesser disability) raced together in London
She ended up realizing her dreams on a tricycle, but it wasn’t where began in disabled sports. She started in sailing and competed across North America, winning the international Mobility Cup regatta in the silver fleet division. It was during her two-year stint as the commodore of Disabled Sailing of Ontario that she met Alan Greer.
“I just wanted to get back into racing and Alan wanted to help me,” she said.
The pair started researching and discovered trike racing. They travelled to Quebec to see a racing trike and a trike race.
“She was hooked,” Greer said.
Gautier started out with a borrowed bike from Quebec before her and Greer had a racing trike built.
She trained hard, met the required Canadian standard to race internationally, and began working with a national paracycling coach.
With Greer as her training partner, Gautier trained five days a week and her speed continued to increase.
“She has a single minded focus that results in a determined drive to succeed,” Greer said.
With the female triking division in its infancy, she often raced alone internationally. It has grown each yera and she is now the four-time defending world champion heading to the world championships Aug. 28-31 in Greenville, S.C. This season she was undefeated on the World Cup circuit, including a dominating win in Segovia, Spain where she lapped the field.
Her focus, her drive, her competitive spirit all come together to create a world-class athlete,” Greer said.
Gautier is already looking forward to the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil. The T1 and T2 athletes will still compete in the races but they will be divided into male and female categories.
“I’m not a gold-medal contender, but I’m going to try,” she said. “I have to compete against T2s so probably trying for silver and bronze.
Motivation won’t be an issue.
“What’s pushing me is that I’ve always taken pride in being the best that I can be,” she said. “I’m good and I just want to keep doing it.”
Age also won’t be a barrier. In the T2 discipline, the world champion is 50 and the runnerup is 36.
“In paracycling, people have their accidents at different times so the ages vary,” she said.
Away from cycling, Gautier volunteers at the University of Toronto and teaches anatomy at the university. She has also taught the physiotherapy and occupational therapy classes at the school.