RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – A lot has happened over the past four years of Robbi Weldon’s life, but the 2012 Paralympic gold medalist arrived in Rio as strong as ever.
Following a near death experience, Canada’s top Paralympic road cyclist believes she has regained her 2012 form and is ready to contend for a medal.
In 2013, it seemed as if the sky was the limit for the Ottawa native. She was coming off Paralympic gold and was dominating the World Cup circuit with her new pilot Emilie Roy (road races are done in tandem, led by a pilot because the Paralympian often suffers from visual impairments).
Then her world came crashing down.
“Emilie and I were leading in the World Cup in Quebec, when we were hit by a car. That flipped our lives upsides down. We were really, really fortunate to have survived that crash,” the 41-year old said. “It’s just something that happens sometimes in life. I had to go through all the phases of rehab and get my body back to 100 per cent.
“Right now I’m feeling really good and probably stronger then back then.”
Weldon broke her collarbone, shoulder blade and fifth vertebrae in the accident, which left her bedridden for five months.
“Competing in Sochi in 2014 (Para-Nordic skiing), I wasn’t 100 per cent, still recovering from the clavicle injury I was competing with, and ended up getting surgery on that fall. Really, I wasn’t 100 per cent until last year at world championships,” she said. “This year, I’m still working on the upper body, but the legs are getting faster and stronger, which is the most important thing.”
After the accident, Roy was unable to continue alongside Weldon, leaving her without a pilot. She went through two more pilots before finally finding her perfect fit ahead of the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am games, in Audrey Lemieux. The pair won a silver medal.
“I was fortunate to have great pilots all along my cycling career. Audrey and I have taken all of this knowledge and skill and put it together in the tandem,” Weldon said. “The two of us have great communication on the bike, and it was really showing throughout our training.”
The tandem shares a confidence in the ability to not only work together, but to ride all the way onto the podium.
“I think we are both hoping for a medal. That’s the main goal. We want to really give it our all and try as hard as we can,” Lemieux said.
Added Weldon: “We’re going to leave every second out on that course.”