Stephanie Dixon, CM, swimmer (born 10 February 1984 in Brampton, ON). Stephanie Dixon is one of Canada’s most decorated Paralympic athletes. She won 19 Paralympic medals (seven gold, 10 silver, two bronze), six gold medals at the Parapan American Games and 10 gold medals at the IPC World Championships. She set world records in nine long course swimming events — some more than once — and still holds the world record in the women’s 200 m backstroke. Dixon has worked as a coach since retiring in 2010. She was also Team Canada’s chef de mission at the 2019 Parapan American Games and the 2020 Paralympic Games. She has been inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and is a Member of the Order of Canada.
Childhood and Disability
Stephanie Dixon was born without a right leg and hip. She was also born with some of her organs protruding outside her abdomen through her belly button, a rare medical condition known as omphalocele. Her parents are Mark Dixon and the late Joanne MacDonald, who died of cancer at the age of 60. Dixon also has an older brother, Matthew.
At 11 months old, Dixon was fitted with a prosthetic leg. When she did not use her prosthesis, which was very uncomfortable, Dixon would hop on one foot or use crutches. She took swimming lessons at age two and instantly fell in love with the sport. As she once told CBC Sports: “feeling more like a mermaid than a person, I was free — physically, from my prosthetic leg and emotionally, from any kind of imposed limitations or judgments. The water doesn’t judge you, feel sorry for you, or give you an easier time because you have a disability — things I experienced every single day. I was free to be me. In the water, I gained confidence and self-esteem around my unconventional body.”
Dixon learned to walk on her hands and ride a bicycle. She also excelled in high jumping, winning the high jump competition for her region in Grades 7 and 8. During junior high, Stephanie experienced challenges at school. She didn’t want to be labelled as “disabled” and tried to hide her disability by wearing her prosthesis as often as possible.
Early Swimming Career
Stephanie started swimming competitively at age 12. By the time she was 13, she was competing against able-bodied athletes. By 14, she was on Canada’s national Paralympic swim team, competing in the S9 Class (for swimmers with either severe weakness in one leg or, as in Dixon’s case, missing one leg).
Dixon’s first significant accomplishment was setting a Canadian record in the women’s 100 m backstroke with a time of 1:21.69 at the age of only 13, prior to winning the gold medal at the 1997 Canada Summer Games. She won five medals at the 1997 Canada Games (one gold, one silver and three bronze).
At 13, Dixon won four gold medals and a silver medal at the 1997 United States National Championships for Swimmers with a Disability. A year later, at the 1998 National Youth Championship in Sherbrooke, Stephanie set her first world record with a time of 2:39.39 in the women’s 200 m backstroke. Then, at the Ontario Junior Provincial Championships, Dixon set the short course world record in the women’s 100 m backstroke with a time of 1:13.87.
Later that year, Stephanie set the long course world record in the women’s 100 m backstroke with a time of 1:14.46. In the process, she won the gold medal at the 1998 International Paralympic Committee World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was one of five gold medals (and seven medals overall) she won at the World Championships, and one of two world records, as she also was part of the Canadian team that set the world record in the women’s 4x100 m medley relay (5:22.18).
2000 Paralympic Games
Leading up to the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Stephanie dominated the 1999 USA Disability Swimming Championships at the University of Minnesota. She won seven gold medals and broke her world record in the women’s 200 m backstroke (2:30.24). Then, at the 2000 Paralympic Swimming Trials in Montreal, Stephanie set two more world records in the women’s 100 m freestyle (1:07.93) and the women’s 100 m backstroke (1:11.06).
At the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, at the age of 16, Stephanie won five gold medals (women’s 100 m freestyle, women’s 400 m freestyle, women’s 100 m backstroke, women’s 4x100 m medley relay, and the women’s 4x100 m freestyle relay) and two silver medals (women’s 50 m freestyle and 200 m individual medley). She set world records in the 100 m freestyle (1:07.12), 400 m freestyle (4:53.83), 100 m backstroke (1:11.04), and was part of the Canadian team that set world records in the women’s 4x100 m medley relay (5:07.56) and women’s 4x100 m freestyle relay (4:38.01).
More World Records
Following her Paralympic Games success in Sydney, Dixon broke two of her own world records at meets in Ontario in a span of 10 days. On 1 June 2001, she had a time of 2:29.09 in the women’s 200 m backstroke, and then posted a time of 1:10.49 in the women’s 100 m backstroke on 10 June 2001. Seven more gold medals came at the 2001 USA Swimming Disability Championships.
In 2002, Dixon’s most successful competition was the Commonwealth Games Trials in Winnipeg, where she set world records in the women’s 50 m freestyle (30.74 seconds) and the women’s 100 m freestyle (1:05.23). At the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, Dixon won silver medals in the women’s 50 m and 100 m freestyle. She also won four medals at the 2002 IPC World Championships in Mar del Plata, Argentina, and set a world record in the women’s 400 m freestyle with a time of 4:52.20.
2004 Paralympic Games
Leading up to the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Dixon moved to British Columbia and attended the University of Victoria from 2003 to 2007, where she graduated with a degree in psychology. She joined Pacific Coast Swimming and also trained at the university.
Dixon set two more world records leading up to Athens. They came in the women’s 100 m backstroke at the 2004 Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Trials in Toronto (1:10.12) and the women’s 400 m individual medley at the US Grand Prix (5:53.78). Dixon’s overall times were strong enough to meet the Canadian university standard for able-bodied athletes. In 2004, she was named the University of Victoria Female Athlete of the Year for the first of two straight years.
At the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Dixon won eight more medals (one gold, six silver, one bronze). Her gold medal came in the women’s 100 m backstroke, where she beat her world record by 0.11 seconds with a time of 1:10.01. Dixon’s six silver medals came in the 100 m freestyle, 400 m freestyle, 100 m butterfly, 200 m individual medley, 4x100 m freestyle relay and 4x100 m medley relay. Her bronze came in the women’s 50 m freestyle.
2008 Paralympic Games
In her last full Paralympic cycle, Dixon broke the world record twice during the 2005 calendar year in the women’s 200 m backstroke. The first time came at the 2005 BC Senior Championships in Vancouver (2:29.01), and the second came at the 2005 Club Nationals in Winnipeg, where set the current world record of 2:28.29.
At the 2006 IPC World Championships in Durban, South Africa, Dixon won seven medals (one gold and six silver medals), and again set the world record in the women’s 100 m backstroke (1:09.62). At the 2007 Parapan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, she won six gold medals.
In her final Paralympic Games in 2008 in Beijing, Dixon won four more medals. She set a world record gold of 1:09.30 in the 100 m backstroke, won silver medals in the women’s 200 m individual medley and 400 m freestyle, and bronze in the women’s 100 m freestyle.
Following Beijing, Dixon set three more world records. They came in the women’s 50 m backstroke (33.93) at the 2009 Can-Am Para Swimming Championships in Edmonton, and in the women’s 100 m backstroke (1:07.83) and the women’s 400 m freestyle (4:38.84) at the 2009 IPC World Short Course Swimming Championships. In 2010, Dixon competed in her final competition, the 2010 IPC World Championships, where she won bronze in the women’s 100 m backstroke.
In 2011, Stephanie moved to Yukon to be the head coach of the Whitehorse Glacier Bears Swim Club. After two years with the Glacier Bears, she remained in Yukon, had her own coaching business and remained active with Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program and as a Right to Play Ambassador. Over the last decade, Dixon has been active as a broadcaster at international events. She was the chef de mission for Canada at the 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, and at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Stephanie Dixon was inducted into the Brampton Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, the University of Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2016 and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. She was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2017.