By Braydon Holmyard
Canadian Paralympic Media Consortium
RIO DE JANEIRO – A new sport is making waves at the Paralympic Games and a pair of Canadians are off to tomorrow’s finals, as para-canoe made its highly anticipated debut in Rio this morning.
The crowd was buzzing at Lagoa stadium when Gauthier was the first of two Canadians to punch their ticket to Thursday’s final. The 46-year-old from Montreal, Que. has seen the sport evolve steadily since she won her first of five world championships in 2009. She was the class of the sport for half a decade, winning consecutive world titles through to 2013
Now heading towards the tail end of her career, Gauthier hopes the exposure generated from these Games will help get more Canadians with a disability into paddling competitions.
“For myself, I discovered other sports through the Paralympics we had in Vancouver, like sledge hockey and other disciplines,” Gauthier said. “So I’m hoping at least for this portion, it will bring more people out especially in Canada, to come out and paddle.”
Her teammate Erica Scarff, from Mississauga, Ont., started paddling in 2013 and is competing in just her fourth international competition. At just 20 years old, Scarff started the sport at the most opportune time, when it was added to the Paralympic program. Having an experienced partner to look up to has helped Scarff get comfortable with the attention that comes with being a Paralympic athlete.
“Having Christine around is awesome,” Scarff said after her semifinal race. “She knows her way around everything. If there’s something I’ve never experienced before, she’s probably experienced it and I can go to her and ask her about it. It’s awesome to have her around.”
Scarff’s surge into the Paralympic Games does bode well for the future of Canadian para-canoe. She is the youngest of 10 women competing in the KL3 classification and her gymnastics background has given her an edge on conquering the balance needed in the sport.
Gauthier noted how important that is.
“For Erica and anybody else coming up, it’s very intimidating to start paddling because of the balance issue. It’s challenging and people don’t give it enough time. So its about time in the water and good surroundings that are they key to paddling. It’s very important.”
Both Canadians will compete in the finals tomorrow morning and take a crack at winning the first ever Paralympic medals in para-canoe.