When Stephanie Dixon took on the role of chef de mission for Canada for the Lima 2019 Parapan Am Games and Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, she never could have anticipated a global pandemic derailing everyone’s plans.
But with now 365 days to go until the postponed Paralympic Games next summer, she is excited and ready to lead for an additional year.
“I feel like the luckiest chef in the world to be honest,” the 19-time Paralympic medallist said. “It’s obviously very challenging to be able to lead a team in such a difficult circumstance. But what a great opportunity for me to learn from the last year that I’ve been chef and do a better job the next time around.”
Like most people, Dixon has had to adapt in the pandemic. As a swim coach, she had to get creative once the pool closed and connected with her swimmers through online challenges and a group Facebook page. She says she is fortunate to live in the north where she jokes they “kind of invented social distancing”. With lots of outdoor space available near her cabin in Whitehorse, she has been able to still enjoy biking, being outside, and playing with her dog.
When Tokyo 2020 was first postponed, her first thought was of the athletes.
“My heart goes out to the athletes. We’ve never seen anything like this. Athletes are very resilient, but this is above and beyond a circumstance that you would normally think to build resilience. I do believe we will come out stronger on the other side but it’s going to take time.”
As chef de mission, she wants to make sure athletes feel supported, with the right resources and tools to not only train and plan their athletic career, but to keep themselves and their families safe.
While nobody could have prepared for such an unprecedented situation, she does say that part of an athlete’s training is to be ready for the things they can’t plan ahead of time.
“I think by nature, the unknown in sport and having to react, make a plan and stay calm and keep surging forward no matter what happens, that’s what an athlete trains to do, that adaptability.
“And that’s just magnified on a Paralympic side because life has had to be adapted for any Paralympic athlete. Paralympians have the tools and skills to not only get through this situation but to become stronger on the other side and to be leaders and examples of resiliency and adaptability.”
She recognizes it will be a busy and challenging year ahead for the athletes and everyone behind-the-scenes, but she aims to make the best of the additional time. For Dixon, having an extra year will also help her build on the relationships she’s already been developing and make an even greater impact.
As a sport community, the 36-year-old believes the Tokyo Games will be a coming together of nations like never before, having made it through a global crisis together.
“I feel like there will be a level of humility, a feeling of unity, a feeling of camaraderie, and a strength we’ve never seen before.”
And from a Canadian perspective, she envisions a team like no other.
“As we walk out into the stadium as Team Canada in 2021, we will be the most humble, strong, and unified Canadian team that we’ve ever seen. I’m very excited to be a part of Team Canada in 2021.”