BY: MERI PERRA
Even compared to other elite athletes, Shelley Gautier has a mad list of accomplishments under her belt.
The 46-year-old para-cyclist holds eight world titles, and recently launched her own foundation, The Shelley Gautier Para-Sport Foundation, a Para Pan Am legacy project, which aims to make para-sports more accessible for people with disabilities. This year, she was the only Canadian to be nominated for the prestigious Laureus World Sports Award. Not to mention, she holds bragging rights as the first female T-1 rider (a classification for para athletes with neurological conditions, such as hemiplegia, who ride tricycles) on the international circuit. Now she’s heading into her second-stint at the Para Pan Am Games, as one of the #paratough featured athletes promoted by the Canadian Paralympic Committee, with all signs pointed to the Rio Paralympics next year.
So what, are you tired just reading this list?
Because before the Para Pan Am Games even begin, elite para-cyclists such as Gautier headed to Switzerland to compete in the Union-Cycliste International (UCI) Para-cycling Road World Championships – a competition Gautier has won for several years in a row.
“I’m trying to win again,” Gautier said, before leaving, and ultimately winning for the sixth time.
Originally from Niagara, Gautier has called Toronto her home for the past 20 years. Always an athlete, Gautier played hockey and soccer during her stint at the University of Toronto. After graduation, Gautier worked as a licensed physiotherapist, and mountain biked competitively in her spare time. That was when Gautier began dreaming of the Olympics – but not in the usual way.
“While I was a physiotherapist, one of my goals was to be at the Olympics as a caregiver and to help the athletes,” Gautier said. “But I decided to go as an athlete.”
That decision happened after Gautier acquired her TBI following a mountain bike accident in 2001. The accident put her in a coma for six weeks and resulted in hemiplegia (paralysis on one-side of her body). But Gautier held on to her competitive spirit and athleticism, and began to sail, becoming heavily involved in the competitive para-sailing community. After a few years, she switched to cycling, thinking the sport would be better suited to her hemiplegia body condition.
To put it mildly, Gautier was right. By 2009, she broke onto the para-cycling scene, and began collecting UCI world wins.
“I think any aspect of your life, if you have a goal to meet one way or another you can [do] it” Gautier said. “Just try and don’t give up. I mean it might be the case that your goal is unrealistic, but realistic goals are achievable and putting your mind or your thoughts to it is very important.”
Gautier’s mom, Suzanne Letourneau, says she often doesn’t get to see her daughter race as competitions are usually too far away. But for the Toronto Games, Gautier will have a crowd of friends and family cheering her on.
“I am always at the other end of all communication anxiously waiting for the results of her race,” Letourneau said over email. “Shelley and I have a very close relationship, we speak before and after every race.”
Gautier shares her mother’s excitement about competing in Toronto.
“Being in my hometown, where I live, I can have friends and people support me,” Gautier said. “So I’m really excited about going to the Para Pan Am Games, even though it’s after Worlds.”
No surprise, life as an elite athlete is busy. Gautier drives an hour and a half outside of Toronto to train with her training partner, Alan Greer. Among other things, Greer helps Gautier pack and un-pack her trike – no small job whether they’re driving out of the city or boarding an international flight.
“I have to bring six wheels [when I travel],” Gautier said. “[My] trike is a mobility device and it’s hard to pack because it doesn’t fit into a normal bike bag.”
Observant Torontonians may also catch a glimpse of this world-class athlete just doing her stuff around town. Gautier says she hops on her three-wheels to commute, for running errands or to meet with friends.
“Cycling is a great activity and something that I can do,” Gautier said “I can socialize, and I can help people. It’s something that I think health care professionals should either teach their students or they can tell their patients that getting on a bike is a great option.”
You can catch Gautier at the Para Pan Am Games on August 8th in downtown Toronto, and on August 13th in Milton. You can find a schedule of Para Pan Am competition dates and venues here and purchase Para Pan Am Tickets here.
Find out more about Shelley: https://shelleygautier.wordpress.com
ALL IMAGES COURTESY SUZANNE LETOURNEAU