Aurélie Rivard, swimmer (born 14 May 1996 in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, QC). One of Canada’s best para-athletes, Aurélie Rivard has won 10 Paralympic medals (five gold, three silver and two bronze), 14 medals at the International Paralympic World Swimming Championships, and seven medals at the 2015 Parapan Am Games. She has repeatedly set world records in the women’s 50 m, 100 m, 200 m and 400 m freestyle. She was named Swimming Canada’s Female Para-swimmer of the Year in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019, and was Canada’s flag bearer at the closing ceremonies of the 2020 Paralympic Summer Games. CBC News called Rivard “the undisputed queen of the Tokyo Paralympic Games.”
Childhood and Family
Aurélie Rivard was born with moderate symbrachydactyly (an underdeveloped hand with no fingers and only a partial thumb) to Nadine Galipeau and André Rivard. She has a twin sister, Charlotte, who was born without a physical disability. Aurélie’s father played as a goaltender with the Longueuil Chevaliers of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 1984–85.
Aurélie Rivard began to swim at age three and started competing in swimming at age 11. She wanted to swim as a child because she wanted to be a lifeguard. However, success for Aurélie did not come easy; at first, she failed two or three swimming levels.
As a teenager, Aurélie faced a lot of bullying. She has admitted to being shy, suffering from panic attacks and having an eating disorder. In 2019, Rivard told the CBC, “as a kid, when I was going through that, one of the things I was looking for was someone who would understand me. It was very hard to talk about. It is not a place I like to go back to.” In a Sport Canada video that was translated by the Canadian Press, Aurélie explains how important swimming was in her life. “The day I let myself get out of this discomfort, I focused on swimming. When I showed up to practice, I ignored everything that was going on. It kind of shaped the personality and the person that I am, and the athlete too. I don’t think I would have had that strength of character, so I think that yes, sport can save lives.”
However, the bullying then started in swimming as well. According to Teddy Katz of CBC Sports, Aurélie was called a prune and one day had a water bottle thrown at her by a teammate. At that time, she realized that to end the bullying, she needed to fight back. She took the water bottle and threw it at her teammate, hitting her in the face. “That day changed my life,” Rivard said.
Rivard began to love swimming when she started to compete. Her first notable competition came at age 12 in an event in Saint-Hubert, Quebec. With a time of 44.8 seconds, Rivard finished second in the 11- and 12-year-old girls’ 50 m backstroke. By July 2009, Rivard had her first taste of dominance at a provincial age group event in Montreal, coming away with six gold medals and one silver. Her time in the 50 m butterfly was a personal best of 42.56 seconds.
International Competition 2010–15
In March of 2010, Rivard participated in an international event for the first time at the Paralympics Can-Am Spring Championships in San Antonio, Texas. She won three medals, including gold in the women’s 100 m breaststroke.
With increased confidence in swimming the longer distances, Rivard won her first Paralympic Games medal at the 2012 Paralympic Summer Games in London. She finished second in the women’s S10 400 m freestyle. Not only did Rivard win a Paralympic medal at age 16, but her time of 4:36.46 was more than 37 seconds faster than the time of 5:13.72 she posted at the 2010 Quebec Championship in LaSalle.
At the 2013 IPC World Championships in Montreal, Rivard came away with five medals (three silver and two bronze), the most by a Canadian swimmer at the competition.
At the 2014 Commonwealth Games (which, unlike Olympic Games, include events for para-athletes) in Glasgow, Scotland, Rivard won a bronze medal in the women’s SM10 200 m individual medley. Rivard returned to Glasgow for the 2015 IPC Swimming World Championships and won four medals, including gold in the women’s 50 m and 400 m freestyle events.
Rivard returned to Canada to compete at the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto. She set a world record in the women’s S10 100 m freestyle with a time of 59.17 seconds and went on to win six gold medals and one silver.
2016 Paralympic Summer Games
At the 2016 Paralympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Rivard dominated the women’s freestyle events in the S10 category, which is for athletes with the least severe physical disability (S1 is for those with the most severe physical disability; 11–13 is for different severities of visual impairment and 14 is for intellectual disabilities). Rivard won gold medals in the women’s 50 m, 100 m and 400 m freestyle events. She set a world record in the women’s 50 m freestyle with a time of 27.37 seconds and a world record in the women’s 400 m freestyle with a time of 4:29.96. She also won silver in the women’s 200 m individual medley. She was named the flag bearer for Canada at the closing ceremonies.
International Competition 2017–20
On 6 July 2017, Rivard broke the world record in the women’s 200 m freestyle with a time of 2:10.98 at a Para Swimming World Series event in Berlin, Germany. She returned to Berlin in the Para Swimming World Series the following year and broke her own world record twice, with a time of 2:10.57 in the heats and a time of 2:08.64 in the final.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, Rivard won silver in the women’s S10 200 m individual medley. Also in 2018, Rivard won three gold medals at the Pan Pacific Para Swimming Championships in Cairns, Australia. She placed first in the women’s 50 m, 100 m and 400 m freestyle and broke her own world record in the women’s 400 m freestyle with a time of 4:29.27.
At the 2019 IPC World Swimming Championships in London, the last major international competition before the 2020 Paralympic Summer Games, Rivard came away with five more medals, including gold in the women’s 50 m and 100 m freestyle events.
2020 Paralympic Summer Games
Heading into the 2020 Paralympic Summer Games in Tokyo (rescheduled to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic), Rivard was once again a strong medal contender in multiple disciplines. She won five medals in Tokyo to extend her Paralympic Games total to 10. She won gold in the women’s S10 100 m freestyle and S10 400 m freestyle, as well as silver in the women’s S10 100 m backstroke. She also won bronze in the women’s S10 50 m freestyle and in the women’s S10 4x100 m relay. Rivard’s gold medals once again came in world record times: 58.14 seconds in the 100 m and 4:24.08 in the 400 m. Following the Games, CBC News called Rivard “the undisputed queen of the Tokyo Paralympic Games.”
See also Premiere Para-Athletes; Canada at the Paralympic Games.