Swimmer Rivard weighs in on five-medal haul and overcoming breathing issue

A five-medal haul from the recent world para swimming championships left Canada’s Aurelie Rivard with mixed emotions.

Winning two gold, one silver and two bronze at the London Aquatics Centre padded her career total to 14 world medals. Rivard entered the competition hoping to break records but in the end did well to reach the podium so often considering she overcame a breathing issue in her second of six races.

“It was a very, very interesting week,” Rivard said Thursday from Montreal. “Looking back I realized that I had some amazing performances. I also had surprising ones and disappointing ones. It was like a bit of everything. It was a mix of feelings.”

The 23-year-old from St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que., opened with a gold last week in the 50 freestyle S10 for her third career world title. But she experienced shortness of breath two days later in the 400 free and had difficulty walking after her second-place finish.

“I can’t really explain it,” she said. “I was not feeling great beforehand. I felt really, really hot. It was probably the most painful race of my life so far. I couldn’t feel my legs afterwards.”

Rivard, who is asthmatic, experienced some minor dizziness but felt strong enough to compete. She stared at the black line on the pool floor during the race and tried to keep her focus on swimming.

Once out of the water, Rivard had to use a wall for support to make her way to the media area.

“It was more than just the pain of racing,” she said. “I wasn’t feeling good before, during or after.”

She spent a few hours getting treatment and being observed at the medical clinic before deciding to stay in the meet, hoping rest and recovery would do the trick. With the doctor monitoring her closely, Rivard captured gold a day later in the 100 free.

“It showed certainly a lot of resilience and a lot of dedication to doing what she set her mind to do,” said coach Mike Thompson, who trains Rivard at the High Performance Centre-Quebec.

Rivard experienced a similar breathing issue on one occasion at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. Neither Rivard nor Thompson were concerned that it would be an issue going forward.

“She turned out to be OK,” Thompson said. “She was a little shaken up and I think that’s why she didn’t really expect the next day to be as fast as it was.”

Over the rest of the week, Rivard added a fourth-place showing in the 4×100 medley relay, a bronze in the 100 backstroke — her first international podium in the discipline — and a third-place result in the 4×100 free.

“The results were there in terms of placings but I think she was really hoping for more,” Thompson said.

Rivard made her Paralympic debut in London in 2012 and broke out four years later in Rio with three gold medals and a silver. She set two world records at the 2016 Paralympics and was named Canadian flag-bearer at the closing ceremony.

The 2019 worlds were the first qualifying event for next year’s Paralympics. Rivard earned a nomination spot for Tokyo with her initial gold.

“I think she remembered why she loves swimming so much this past week,” Thompson said from London. “The look on her face after everything that she did, it really reminded her why she’s doing it and why she spends so much time in the pool and why she makes all these sacrifices.

“She definitely came out of it remembering those things.”

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