Christine Gauthier (Dorval, Que.) and Erica Scarff (Toronto, Ont.) made history on Monday.
They were named as the members of Canada’s first ever Paralympic paracanoe team. Paracanoe is a sport making its Paralympic debut in Brazil. It was decided in 2010 that this sport should be added to the Rio programme.
“It’s very exciting for our paddlers to be going to the Paralympic Games for the first time,” said Canoe Kayak Canada’s paracanoe coach Marc Creamer. “Christine has been in the sport for many years and it’s great to see her now headed to a Paralympic Games. Erica is newer to the sport and she’s developed very quickly. Both have the talent to be in the medal mix.”
Canoe Kayak Canada and the Canadian Paralympic Committee officially announced the members of Canada’s Paralympic and Olympic canoe kayak teams at the Radio Canada/CBC headquarters in Montreal.
Carla Qualtrough, Canada’s Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, offered congratulations to Gauthier and Scarff. She said: “I’m proud to see Canadian athletes taking part in an historic moment this summer as paracanoe makes its Paralympic Games debut in Rio. Because our country has such a cultural tie to the water, our paddlers will be representing the Maple Leaf with a little extra pride as part of Team Canada. I join all Canadians, and especially our young people on lakes and rivers across the country, in wishing our Paralympic athletes the very best as they push for the podium this summer in Rio.”
Gauthier, a five-time World Paracanoe Champion, started paracanoe as an activity to do with her sisters after being afflicted with injuries while she served in the military. She spent 10 years in the regular force field artillery. While training on an obstacle course in 1989, she jumped into a deep hole and had a bad landing. She suffered injuries to her knees, hips, neck and back.
She clinched a quota spot at the Rio Games with an inspiring performance at the 2015 Worlds in Milan, Italy. She paddled her way to the sixth and final qualifying spot in the K1 200-metre LTA (legs, trunk, and arms) competition through tremendous pain as she had a fractured elbow due to a car accident in late 2014.
Scarff, a 19-year-old below the knee amputee, is a bit of a newcomer to the international paracanoe ranks, as she joined the Canadian national team in late 2014. The two-time world championships competitor secured her quota spot at Rio in the KL3 200-metre with a sixth-place finish at the 2016 Worlds in Duisburg, Germany.
While both Gauthier and Scarff did secure athlete quota positions at the games, they both needed to finish as the fastest in Canada within their classes at this past weekend’s national team trials competition in Montreal to officially earn an invitation to represent Canada in Brazil. They did.
The Paralympic Paracanoe competition will be hosted on Sept. 14 and 15 on the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. Each of the six paracanoe events will begin with five heats of two boats. The winner of each heat earns an automatic spot in the finals, while the loser has to compete in the semi-finals. The top three in the semi-finals will advance to the championship race.
Photos courtesy of Canadian Paralympic Committee