MONTREAL – It was the year 2000. Sydney, Australia. Benoit Huot was 14 years old. As he marched with the Canadian team in front of 100,000 spectators into Olympic Stadium for the Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony, his dream to represent his nation came true.
About two weeks later when landed back home in Montreal, he realized his life mission was about to begin.
‘’I was a bit frustrated after Sydney because even though the team did well and I did well individually, nobody in Canada actually witnessed the athletes perform,’’ said Huot. ‘’It was a turning point in my career. Not only did I now have individual goals but it was important for me to be part of the movement, to educate people on what the Paralympics are all about.’’
Born with a club foot, Huot initially idolized Patrick Roy but eventually traded in his skates for a Speedo. He started swimming at age eight at the Seahorse Swim Club in Longueuil and entered his first competition two years later.
Today, Huot’s remarkable career as a Para swimming great and communicator extraordinaire is being celebrated in Montreal. He’s officially announced the end to his competitive career at age 35 after 20 years on the national team.
He raced at five Paralympics Games and collected 20 medals (nine gold, five silver, and six bronze). He was Canada’s flag bearer for the London 2012 Closing Ceremony.
In six appearances at the IPC World Para Swimming Championships, Huot compiled 27 medals – nine gold, 13 silver and five bronze. In three appearances at the Commonwealth Games, he earned a gold, two silver and a bronze. At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, he was Canada’s assistant Chef de Mission.
In his S10 classification, Huot still holds the world record in the 400m individual medley short course, one of more than 60 world marks he lowered over the years. He also currently holds five individual Canadian long course records and eigh national short course standards.
'’It has been the greatest honour to represent Canada and wear the maple leaf,’’ he said. ‘’To live through your passion for such a long time, it’s been a great adventure.’’
Through early morning practices and his global travels, Huot also polished his communication and social media skills to become a media guru for Paralympic sport. The fluently bilingual Huot was the ‘’go-to guy’’ for the national media when they needed a comprehensive message about Para swimming, the Paralympic Games and Paralympic sport.
The media quickly noted his charm, eloquence and intelligence. He hosted a radio show four evenings a week on Radio-Canada and was a popular guest on RDS, Quebec’s TSN. He was a colour commentator for Radio-Canada’s coverage of the FINA World Swimming Championships, a guest on Quebec’s most popular TV show ‘Tout le monde en parle’ and was part of the broadcast team for the Canadian Paralympic Committee media consortium’s coverage of the 2014 and 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
Along with his huge social media following, Huot soon was rubbing shoulders with Olympians such Alexandre Despatie and Alex Bilodeau as his home province’s best known high performance athletes. That exposure soon transmitted to the rest of the country.
‘’How the movement has grown in the past 20 years is probably what makes me the most proud,’’ said Huot, named to the Order of Canada in recognition of his sporting achievements and his work as a Para sport ambassador in 2016.
‘’I’m leaving in peace, knowing the movement has never been in a better place. There’s a great legacy in terms of athletes and development and now more people than ever are watching the Games. And they can watch them live on TV in many countries around the world as well as online.’’
It wasn’t long before his tireless work on and off the playing field was influencing other athletes both in Paralympic and Olympic circles.
‘’Benoit was an excellent mentor for me,’’ said 22-year-old Nicolas-Guy Turbide, Swimming Canada’s Para swimmer of the year for 2018. ‘’He was the best guide I could possibly hope for in order to establish myself in the competitive world.’’
As he sets forth in the next chapter of his life, Huot is eager to continue his mission as a Paralympic mentor, teacher and communicator. Late last year he and partner Annie Couture became proud parents to daughter Mila. Huot is also studying for his MBA at Queen’s University.
‘’Sport has defined the person I am today,’’ he said. ‘’It has given me the discipline, determination and motivation. Sport is the best school for life. I have a lot to give back to the next generation. I want to help athletes reach their objectives, their dreams.”
And what would Mission Accomplished look like for Huot in his post-athlete career?
'’The ultimate dream is to see that Paralympic gold medal worth the same in the eyes of the world as the Olympic gold.”