Tuesday found Priscilla Gagné proudly carrying the Canadian flag during the 2020 Paralympics opening ceremony in Tokyo.
Three days later, the Maple Leaf was being raised in front of the silver-medal bedecked judoka.
The turnaround from opening ceremonies to the podium for the women’s 52-kg para judo class was quick, but the Granby, Que.-born Gagné (who moved to Sarnia when she was three) had a much more arduous journey in the sport.
In 2011 she broke both of her feet in a bout that kept her out of action for eight months, and just last year she underwent hip surgery, but persevered through it all to secure her first-ever Paralympic medal.
‘’It’s very rewarding to win this medal,” Gagné said, after her final match against Algeria’s Cherine Abdellaoui, after dispatching the Russian Paralympic Committee’s Alesia Stepaniuk in the quarter-finals and Germany’s Ramona Brussig in the semi-finals.
“There’s been a lot of hard work over the last five years. Especially the last year and a half has been crazy.’’
While this is the first medal at the Paralympics for the No. 2-ranked judoka, she has been well decorated over the last six years.
The 35-year-old’s list of notable finishes include the bronze medal at the 2015 Para Judo World Cup, fifth at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, silver at the 2019 Parapan American Games and gold at both the 2018 and 2020 Pan Am Para Judo Championships, the latter of which was on home soil in Montreal, where she now trains.
Gagné had many people to thank on her journey to the top, including former coach and 1996 Olympian Nathalie Gosselin, who she moved to Ottawa to train with at the Takahashi Dojo in 2013.
‘’I thought of so many people once the competition was over,” Gagné said. “All the Senseis over the years, my family of course, my coach Andrzej Sadej. It’s wonderful to know my 85-year-old grandmother will be able to see this.’’
Sadej, Judo Canada’s coaching and education director and Para head coach, has been working with Gagné since 2014, and that familiarity came in handy when he had to converse with her in English in the final as her opponent from Algeria also shared the French language as her native tongue.
He sees no reason why she can’t compete for gold at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.
“She is the highest-ranked blind athlete in the world in the female weight divisions, which speaks clearly that she’s one of the most capable of the blind athletes around,” Sadej said to CBC Sports before the 2020 Games began. “If she decides to stay and train until 2024, she will definitely be a gold-medal contender once again.”