Christine Gauthier of Canada competes in the Women's KL2 Final Canoe Sprint at Lagoa Stadium during the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Canadian Paralympic Committee)

Gauthier hoping to inspire young Canadians to take up her paddle

Sprint canoe legend looking beyond her fourth place finish in Rio

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – The sun may have set on Canadian paracanoe legend Christine Gauthier’s competitive career, but she is hoping the future of her sport remains bright.

A five-time world champion, Gauthier is used to winning but at the Paralympic Games in Rio, in the waters of the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon, she fell to fourth.

And the three medallists were each at least 10 years younger.

Gauthier, 46, knows that these Games, her first, could be her last. So, she is looking towards how Canadians will embrace and participate in paracanoe once she has hung up her paddle.

“First and foremost, I want Canada to do well,” Gauthier said. “I would ask nothing more than for young paddlers to come and take my spot, because if they beat me that means they’re coming up [to the Paralympics].

“Paddling is a sport that is in the Canadian heritage, so I can only hope people give it a chance.”

If any Canadians want to take up the challenge, they will have an ally in Gauthier.

“There’s no real secret to [improving], other than time on the water,” she said.  “I’m not going to say all my secrets, but I’ll share them with any Canadians that want to come out there.

She credits most of her success to her life experiences; the paracanoist served with the Canadian Armed Forces for 10 years, before damaging her knees in a training accident. She was released in 1998.

“Eight years ago, I had never paddled in my life,” Gauthier said. “I was dangerously calm. I kept telling my coach, this is not normal, I should feel more nervous.

“I have no doubt that my military background had everything to do with the success I could have had at these Games.”

She does offer some free advice: it takes time to become excellent, with anything in life.

“When I started, I swam more than I paddled,” Gauthier said. “If people give it a real shot, it can really be beneficial, and come to love it as much as I do.”