RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Success breeding success is an ever-important aspect to sport across all levels, and two Canadian Paralympians are currently reaping the benefits of their influential predecessor.
Wheelchair racers Diane Roy and Brent Lakatos both looked up to, and had the luxury to work with, Andre Viger, one of the country’s greats.
“I began with him,” said Roy, at the Olympic Stadium on Monday. “He taught me a lot of things, and when we trained my goal was to try to follow him and go as fast as I could go trying to catch him.”
“He was so good that it was a challenge for me, but I learned a lot just trying to keep up with him.”
Viger collected 10 medals, three gold, over a Paralympic career that consisted of five Games from 1980 to 1996. During that time, he set world records in the 1,500m, 5,000m, and the 10,000m.
In 2006, he passed away following a battle with cancer. Seven years later, he was selected for the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
“He was strong for every training session and he did marathons at the tunnel in the university,” said Roy. “He did three marathons a week for training. That’s amazing, and it inspired me a lot.”
Roy, 45, is competing in her sixth Paralympic Games and has five medals: four bronze and a silver. In the 2008 Beijing Games she initially won the gold, however, after a protest due to a collision, the race was rerun and she finished second by 0.01s.
She vaulted into Paralympic success, not just by training with Viger, but by working with the same coach that helped make him great.
Jean Laroche has coached several of Canada’s para-athletes since 1981 and worked with Viger for 11 years. Laroche had four of his athletes make the 2012 London Games with Roy the only one to win a medal.
Lakatos was barely a teenager when he was first inspired by the late legend.
He was around the age of 12 when he first came into contact with Viger while playing wheelchair basketball. The older athlete was the one who convinced him to get involved in wheelchair racing and through the support of a foundation, Viger gave Lakatos his first racing chair.
The Montreal resident’s first experience with the Paralympian was much like many rookie’s first experience with a star.
“I was actually really nervous around him all the time,” said Lakatos, on Wednesday at Olympic Stadium. “He was this big guy with the deep voice. I mean, this was Andre Viger, the famous racer. I was just the young kid that was nervous around the old veteran.”
It wasn’t long before Viger started to train with the future Paralympian.
“After he was able to get me that chair, he brought me to Montreal and helped me learn how to do corners and stuff like that,” said Lakatos.
Now 36, Lakatos has had a full Paralympic career of his own.
So far in Rio, he has added two medals to the three silvers he won in London. On Friday, he finally struck gold, finishing first in the men’s 100m T53.
On Thursday, Roy will be competing in the women’s 5,000m T54 final, the same race she won silver in 2008. Lakatos will be racing in the men’s 800m T53 final which he also holds a silver medal in from the London Games.
At the end of the day, Lakatos was happy just to be able to know a man of Viger’s stature.
“It was just great to know someone like that, a legend of the sport.”