Golden memories for Delta MP in Rio 2016
For many Canadian athletes at the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games it was a journey to a foreign land and experience unlike anything they’d seen before. But for Delta MP Carla Qualtrough, it was like “coming home.”
The former Canadian Paralympic swimmer competed in the 1988 and 1992 Paralympic Games, winning three bronze medals in the 4x100m relay. During the Rio Olympics, the federal Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities was still representing Canada, just in a different way.
“I got to present medals, I got see excellent sports, it was very moving and touching to have the opportunity to go back in this capacity,” recalls Qualtrough, who presented a gold medal to Aurelie Rivard, who won the 100 metre freestyle in the Paralympic Games. “The athletes are such great ambassadors for our country that they just make you so proud to be Canadian.”
Having been an elite Paralympic athlete, the minister brought a rare perspective for a member of government, in that she knows firsthand the pressure competitors feel. She also knows how years of training can be lost with one little mistake, recalling the time she dove off the starting blocks and lost her swimming goggles.
“At my peak I was swimming 11 times a week,” says Qualtrough. “When you’ve invested that much time and it’s going to come down to 30 seconds it’s really nervewracking to watch.”
The Paralympics don’t get quite the media attention as the Olympics, however the quality isn’t diminished. If anything, as Qualtrough points out, the disabled athletes are exceeding the results of Olympic athletes. Four of the runners in the 1,500m Paralympic final finished with a faster time than gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz.
As a long-time supporter of sport, Qualtrough was at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver as president of the Paralympic Committee for Canada. She has been involved in sport and Paralympic sport for 30 years, but says going to Brazil as minister for sport had her “bursting with pride”.
“It just reminded me of how lucky I am to have this opportunity and I’m serious about making good on it,” she says.
As far as her Olympic perspective, Qualtrough says that like any large city hosting an international event as massive as the Olympics, there were some long lines where people had to wait. But everything else, from the food to the athlete village to their hosts, was “fantastic”.
“The Brazilian people love sports so both the Olympic and Paralympic Games delivered that in spades for Brazilians. But they particularly embraced the Paralympics. They came out to celebrate, cheer and support.”
Qualtrough says she can also take away some lessons from the Olympics that will help in her capacity as minister. Two days before the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, she met with sport ministers and ambassadors from dozens of countries about using sport to connect with communities and encourage more women and girls to get into athletics.
“That is exciting for me because that is what we’re in the process of developing here at home, is an international sport strategy that looks at not only how we get an advantage on the high performance side of things but also how we show leadership in areas where sport is a tool for social development.”