Since she was two years old, Stéphanie Dixon has lived in the water.
At such a young age, Dixon was invested in swimming lessons and it became an important part of her life over the next decade. Born without her right leg, the talented swimmer from Brampton, Ont. was competing against able-bodied athletes when she was just 13-years-old. Fast forward a year later, and Dixon had made Canada’s national team for swimmers with a disability. That is where her legacy began.
At the Sydney Paralympic Games in 2000, Dixon took the world by storm. The teenager raced in the S9 category and was not fazed with the world’s eyes zoned in on her every stroke. Canada had a successful Games in Australia, finishing third in the overall gold medal count with 38 first place finishes. While many Canadians contributed to the terrific standing, it was Dixon’s five Paralympic gold medals that led the way for Team Canada.
She stood at the top of the podium and listened to the Canadian national anthem a record five times in one Games, winning the 100-metre backstroke, 100-metre freestyle, 400-metre freestyle, 4×100-metre freestyle relay and 4×100-metre medley relay. Along the way, Dixon set world records in all three individual events. She decided that five gold was enough, as she also brought home a silver medal in the 50 metre freestyle event.
Sydney was the peak of her career, but she was not done yet. She participated in the 2004 Games in Athens and defended her gold medal in the 100-metre backstroke event. Her gold medal haul was overtaken by a young swimmer from South Africa, Natalie du Toit, who had narrowly missed qualification for the Olympic Games. Dixon won six silver medals in Athens. Four of her silver medals and her bronze medal race were won by the South African, while the Americans had taken over both gold medal spots in the relay races. A total of eight medals made for a great Games for Dixon, but the storyline remains, what could have been?
Dixon defended her 100-metre backstroke gold for a final time at the 2008 Games in Beijing. She added two silver medals and one bronze to round up her international swimming career as a competitor, but she was not done with the Paralympic Games altogether.
She is known for her contributions to the Paralympic movement and support of Canadian athletes just as much as she was as an athlete herself. In 2007, she was selected as the ambassador for the Parapan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro. Her role involved raising awareness for the need for equal sporting opportunities among all athletes. Her character and success as a member of Team Canada made the ambassador a suitable role. She flourished as a leader in Rio and would later return to the role at the 2015 Parapan Ams in Toronto as she was named the assistant Chef de Mission to Elisabeth Walker-Young.
With a grand total of seven gold medals, 10 silver medals, and two bronze medals over three Paralympic Games, Dixon is remembered as one of the most talented Paralympians in Canadian history. Her desire to give back and have an impact on the Paralympic movement, is what makes her a true champion.
Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee