Before she broke her back, swimmer Tess Routliffe was expected to shine at the Paralympics.
A silver medal in Rio 2016 secured hope for success in Tokyo, but that all came crashing down with the weight bar that fell on her in June.
Regardless, the 22-year-old beamed through the phone from her home in Montréal, Que. ,on Day Nine of the 2020 Games.
Her best friend, Aurélie Rivard, had just won gold in Wednesday’s 400-metre freestyle.
“She is smashing it and she never fails to amaze me,” Routliffe said, of Rivard, who broke her own world record by five seconds. “As one of her closest friends I see it every day and I’m still excited to see it every time, and she’s a boss.”
Rouliffe says initially it was difficult to accept the reality of withdrawing from Tokyo, mentioning she thought it would be hard to watch everyone else compete, but turns out she is loving every second.
“My sleeping schedule is horrible right now,” said the Caledon, Ont. native. “I’ve been watching it all. I have some very good friends down there, so very excited to be watching them.”
Despite the time difference between Montréal and Tokyo, Routliffe is also able to talk to her teammates regularly.
“A lot of them are my really close friends,” she said. “So it’s normal to be talking to them every day.”
Routliffe credits her teammates for her love of swimming and getting her through the long months of COVID-19 and injury recovery.
The Para Swimming World Series in Berlin was going to be her first competition in 15 months, until she broke her L1 vertebrae in the gym while training two days before.
On July 15, Routliffe announced she was pulling out of the 2020 Paralympics.
“I’ll never see what was going to happen at Tokyo,” the S7 swimmer said, “and it takes a minute to move on from that.”
“It was kind of funny,” she added, recalling having a conversation with a friend about the World Series and how excited she was to finally compete after a long year of the pandemic, only to get injured days later.
Her ability to think positively through the past few months has been impressive . . . to most.
“My coaches hate me sometimes,” she said with a smile you could hear. “When I was injured, I was on the floor making jokes with my back. I really do have a satirical sense of humour and it’s not always in the best moments, but I find it funny.”
Fortunately for her coaches, there are only a couple weeks left until she’s off the deck and back in the pool.
Routliffe is scheduled to return to competing in time for the World Para Swimming Championships in Madeira from Sept. 25 to Oct. 1.