Swimming helped Aurélie Rivard emerge from the dark side

Canadian Paralympic Committee

August 14, 2021

Paralympic champion found her calling in sport


Aurélie Rivard admits that ‘’swimming saved my life.’’

Rivard, and her twin sister Charlotte – who does not have a disability – were born into a sports-oriented family. However for Aurélie, swimming lessons as a child didn’t exactly stir her imagination. She wanted some action, some excitement. Basically, competition.

‘’I actually failed two or three levels when I was taking lessons,’’ said Rivard, a triple gold medallist at the 2016 Paralympic Games and a double world champion in 2019. ‘’When I discovered the racing part, the training, the whole high-level sport, that’s what I loved.’’

Out of the pool though, Rivard faced many of the same issues as her peers as a teenager. She was shy, anxious and had troubles with self-image. 

‘’I was having panic attacks, I was bullied at school and had an eating disorder,’’ said Rivard, born missing her left hand. ‘’So swimming got me out of that. It gave me the confidence that I lost over the years. When I decided I didn’t want to live like this anymore and I wanted to get out of the darker period of my life, swimming was kind of the thing I was holding on to.”

Rivard only revealed her issues with bullying in 2019.

‘’I realized how many kids go through that,” she said about her decision to make some personal issues public. ‘’I also realized that it’s part of me and it built me into the person I am today and made me a stronger athlete. I don’t think I would be as motivated if I hadn’t gone through that.’’

She says kids and parents often have questions about dealing with personal adversity.

‘’When I was that age I would have loved to know someone who went through that or was going through that and knew how I was feeling,’’ she said. ‘’But I didn’t know anyone. I want to be that person for someone and listen as much as I can and help guide them.’’ 

Now 25, Rivard adds not all kids can lose themselves in a world of sports such as she did.

‘’I really thought my life was going to be like that forever which is wrong. Some can’t see past that and at one time I couldn’t either.’’

Rivard’s development in the pool was so fast that by age 16 she competed at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London and even won a silver medal in the 400m freestyle to boot.

‘’I thought maybe I have a future in this and that’s what I was focusing on every day,’’ said Rivard, currently the world record holder in the S10 50, 100, 200 and 400m freestyles. ‘’I was trying not to focus on anything that was going on at school or in my head, just on that black line in the pool and maybe I could go to the Games and maybe I could win medals.’’

With now five Paralympic medals to her name, the accolades are pouring in for Canada’s Rio 2016 Closing Ceremony flag bearer.

And there could be more on the way this summer in Tokyo. 

For more stories about Canada’s Tokyo 2020 Paralympians, visit Paralympic.ca/powerofsport

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