August 6-21, 2022
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by: Bernie Puchalski, BP Sports Niagara

Niagara Paralympians prepare to take the stage in Tokyo

Niagara athletes will compete on the cycling track and water when the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games are held in Tokyo, Japan, from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.

Shelley Gautier, a 52-year-old Niagara Falls native, will compete Aug. 31 to Sept. 3 at the Fuji Speedway in the T1 and T2 time trials and road race and 24-year-old St. Catharines native Laura Court will cox Canada’s PR 3 mixed coxed four event (rowers with residual function in the legs which allows them to slide the seat and athletes with vision impairment) Aug. 27 to 29 at the Sea Forest Waterway.

For Gautier, who suffered a severe head injury in a mountain biking accident in 2001 and now leads an independent life as a hemiplegic (a person with paralysis on one side of the body), it will be her third Paralympics. The Toronto resident made her first appearance in London in 2012 and won a bronze medal in the time trials in Rio in 2016.

“I have been working hard and I’m preparing for it,” the 52-year-old Niagara Falls native said. “I think the first Paralympics I went and it was just nice to be there, to learn and be a participant. Going to Rio and winning a bronze was great and now getting to go to Tokyo, it is amazing that I am getting this opportunity to do it a third time and I really want to have a good effort and try to bring home a different-coloured medal.”

The 18-time world champion in the T1 time trials and road events knows it won’t be easy.

“It is going to be harder for me because of the calculation that they do. I ride with T2 people who have physical disabilities but don’t have mental disabilities,” she said. “I am T1 and I have those problems. They have made it harder for me to come home with a medal so I just going to go there and proud I have been selected for the third time.”

“I don't know if I will get a medal but I will give it my best effort and hope everyone is proud of me. I want to just give back.”

The inaugural winner of the Best Female category at the Canadian Cyclist Awards in 2019 will enter the Paralympics on a roll. This June, she reclaimed her world titles in the T1 time trials and road events at the Para-cycling Road World Championships in Portugal. She had won both events eight straight times before 2019 when she won a silver in the road race and a bronze in the time trial.

“From after 2019 (worlds) to 2021 was basically a COVID period and I had time to just work out at my home gym and train to pedal faster and be stronger,” she said. “I didn’t have any distractions and I was able to focus on my goal of becoming world champion again. I was able to do that and hopefully the other competitors aren’t quite so focused. We will find out at the Paralympics.”

She moved her training to Florida and was able to train year-round.

Court, an able-bodied athlete, and her crewmates, Bayleigh Hooper (Peterborough Rowing Club), Andrew Todd (North Star Rowing Club), Victoria Nolan (Victoria City Rowing Club) and Kyle Fredrickson (University of Victoria Rowing Club) punched their ticket to Tokyo by winning the final Paralympic qualifier in June in Gavirate, Italy.

“I definitely cried a little bit,” said Court, a former Brock University coxie.

Court, who coxed under-23 women’s crews to back-to-back gold medals at the world championships and a PR3 mixed coxed four to a fourth-place showing at the worlds, is obviously excited about her first appearance at the Paralympics.

“I am most looking forward to the racing experience and the calibre of all the crews that are going to be there. The racing in Italy was really great but you know that the best of the best are going to show up there. It is really exciting to know that we are going to be among them and we are going to be able to throw down our best piece against them like we did this [past June] in Italy.”

The boat believes it can make its way to the top of the podium.

“That’s the goal but like everyone else, we have a lot of work to do to get there. But I think we are excited and ready to put in that work so we can be in that position,” she said.

After the Paralympics, Court will reassess her national rowing career. She expects she will be carrying on.

“I would like to continue for another quadrennial and it is already the next quadrennial.”

This report was filed by BP Sports Niagara, which is owned and operated by Bernie Puchalski and Bill Potrecz.

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