A Paralympic Preview: Paracanoe

With the Paralympic Games rapidly approaching, Report On Rio will preview every event that has a Canadian team competing in Brazil — featuring past results, schedules, rosters, and expectations.

Road to Rio:

The 2016 Paralympic Games will be a first for some of the best paddlers across the world as paracanoe makes its highly anticipated debut. The Games were a long-time coming for one Canadian kayaker, while they could not have come at a more opportune time for the other.

The 2015 World Championships in Milan, Italy gave the canoe and kayak para-athletes a shot at qualifying for the big dance in Rio. Christine Gauthier came into the the worlds with a remarkable track record, having won five consecutive gold medals from 2009 to 2013 in the women’s K1 200-metre race. After another strong showing and a silver medal in 2014, she saw a different result in the following season when it was time to qualify for the Paralympics.

Gauthier was dealing with a serious injury that had hindered her entire season after she was hit by a car a few months earlier (listen to her talk about it here). Despite doctors’ best efforts to keep her out of the water, she competed anyways. She did not finish on the podium for the first time in her career, but was able to grab the sixth and final quota spot in the event in remarkable fashion, giving Canada a boat to run with at the Paralympics.

Following in the footsteps of one of Canada’s most talented paddlers was a youngster who was hungry to qualify. Erica Scarff, 19, competed in just her second major competition in those same world championships and was in tough against some powerful and more experienced athletes. She was able to hang in and pull out a sixth place finish of her own, giving Canada a spot in another classification and a young athlete a chance to show her talents to the world.

Previous Competitions:

Christine has competed in the following world championships:

2016 World Championships KL2 200-metre – 5th

2015 World Championships KL2 200-metre – 6th

2014 World Championships K1 200-metre – 2nd

2014 World Championships V1 200-metre – 3rd

2013 World Championships K1 200-metre – 1st

2013 World Championships V1 200-metre – 2nd

2012 World Championships K1 200-metre – 1st

2011 World Championships K1 200-metre – 1st

2010 World Championships K1 200-metre – 1st

2009 World Championships K1 200-metre – 1st

Erica has competed in the following world championships:

2016 World Championships KL3 200-metre – 6th

2015 World Championships KL3 200-metre – 7th

Meet the Team:

The team of two kayakers bring a balance of experience and potential to the Canadian Paralympic team.

Forty-six-year-old Christine Gauthier has had a legendary career and has been the most decorated and consistent paddler on the paracanoe circuit since it began in 2008. Born in Ville LaSalle, Que., Gauthier served in the military in the regular force field artillery for ten years. She was injured in a training accident when she jumped into a deep hole and sustained injuries to her knees, hips, back and neck – leaving her in a wheelchair and eventually, a powerful depression.

Before I started paddling I was 10 years inactive in my house. Completely depressed and totally out of shape, and left completed isolated,” said Gauthier in an interview a few months before the Games in Rio, “because when I first got injured the rehab thoughts at the time were, ‘do as little as possible so you don’t keep deteriorating your condition and you don’t keep hurting yourself by doing more.’”

Her decision to give paddling a try proved to be life changing. “It helped me out with regaining control of my life and get myself back in shape and gave me hope for as normal a life as can be in the condition that I am in.”

~To read Gauthier’s full feature story here, click HERE.~

Erica Scarff secured the second quota spot for Canada’s paracanoe team.

While Gauthier has been competing in international competitions for years, her new teammate is getting her feet wet in the sport. Erica Scarff is Mississauga, Ont. native who began paddling three years ago. She has quickly been making a name for herself and it has shown with improvements at the world championship level. When she’s not paddling, Scarff attends Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont. and studies kinesiology.

Erica is an amputee and competes in the KL3 200-metre races. When she was 12-years-old, she broke her leg while doing gymnastics and later found out it was because she had bone cancer. While she did lose her leg, her incredible athletic ability continued to blossom, and she now finds herself representing Canada on the worlds biggest stage.

Expectations:

Nobody puts more pressure on Gauthier than herself. She was disappointed when she qualified for the Paralympic Games because it was not the podium finish that she has become so accustomed to in her career. She has more experience than anyone on the tour and a resume that proves she is one of the top paddlers Canada has ever seen. Despite falling off her career mark over the last two seasons, Gauthier will have a chance to reign as a champion once again. In her way are a couple of young, talented competitors from Great Britain. Emma Riggs, 36, and Nicola Patterson, 27, have finished at the top in the last two World Championships.

Riggs won gold in 2015 with a time of 53.023 and repeated in 2016 at 53.691, and seems to be the only one who can put together a sub-54 race recently. However, Gauthier appears to be back at full health and if she can put together the times she used to, she has a shot at taking back her throne (53.190 in 2010, 54.317 in 2013, 53.505 in 2014).

As for Scarff, she enters her first Games with nothing to lose, and an natural ability to shock everyone who doubts her. Putting together consistent world best races through the heats, semis, and finals is a tall order, but not insurmountable. She continues to improve and shed seconds off her times, and if she can do that again in Rio, she will be a tough boat to pass.


Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee, Canoe-Kayak Canada (Balint Vekassy)

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