RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — Chantal Givens crossed the finish line, looked up to her family in the stands and saw one vacant seat.
“I know that they had an empty chair that was beside them and it would have been for my dad,” said Givens, wiping a tear from her eye.
“It’s been a really long journey to get here. I’ve had a few setbacks and for them to come here with me, it’s really amazing.”
Givens’ father, James Denholm, died in 2012. But her mother, Madeleine, her aunt, Emily Etcheverry, and her husband, Ian, of Winnipeg, made the trip to Rio to cheer her on as she competed in the inaugural para-triathlon event.
To Givens, that meant a lot.
Coach Carolyn Murray agrees it was encouraging for her family to be in attendance.
“It’s been a long journey for her, she’s not a young teenager – she’s got a family and they’ve been really supportive of her,” Murray said of the 38-year- old Givens. “Family is, at the end of the day, the most important thing.”
Under the blazing Brazilian sun on Copacabana beach, Givens finished eighth in the PT4 classification. Despite a slow start in the swimming portion, she made up ground during the 20 kilometre bike ride and found her stride in the five kilometre run, completing the race in 1:19:13.
Born without a left hand, she competed in able-bodied marathons throughout her life. In 2001, Givens felt inspired when volunteering at the World Triathlon Championships and by 2003 she was participating in para-triathlons.
She has been competing in World Championships since 2013 before the sport was elevated to Paralympic status for the Rio Games.
“I kind of felt like this race was the cake or dessert after all the hard work,” Givens said.
The sport made quite an impression at its first appearance. The bleachers were packed with athlete’s families and crowds of loud and supportive new fans.
“I’m really confident that people are going to be excited about it and I think it debuted really well,” Murray said. “The organizers did a fantastic job.”
Athletes are competing with an intensity that matches the fans’ enthusiasm.
“The level of competition has just gone up exponentially,” Givens said. “It’s not an easy sport and you have to lay it all out there and it's a great example to set.”
As a physical education and health teacher, setting examples is something Givens knows well. She leads with encouragement and is an inspiration to her students.
“You find what your strengths are and you develop them and you push them and you can do amazing things,” Givens said.