Canadian Paralympic athletes arrive home to warm welcome

MONTREAL – Aurélie Rivard didn’t expect a hero’s welcome after winning a silver medal in the 2012 London Paralympics.

That might explain why the 16-year-old swimmer erupted into tears after being met with a chorus of applause from friends and family at Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport Monday night.

“It was beyond anything I could have hoped for,” said Rivard, who took silver in the 400-metre women’s freestyle event.

“To see my friends and family after such a long journey, it was just unbelievable.”

Rivard and over 30 other Canadian Paralympic athletes were greeted by dozens of well-wishers as they arrived from London.

With a total of seven gold medals earned, the Canadians’ performance fell short of the 19 won in Beijing four years ago. But neither the athletes, nor their families seemed the least bit disappointed as they embraced each other for the first time since the Games ended.

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“It was just such a load off my back to be home again,” said a beaming Valérie Grand’Maison, who won gold in the women’s 200-metre freestyle.

“All that stress, all that pressure, it just eats away at you. It’s going to be great to be with my family but it’s going to be awesome to be able to sleep again.”

Grand’Maison, a blind swimmer, also won three gold medals in the Beijing Games.

“I can’t say what my exactly what my next goal in the sport is,” she said. “Right now I just have to focus on catching up with the all of the classes I missed at McGill (University).”

For swimming gold medallist Benoit Huot, being able to hug his girlfriend and parents again was the perfect way to cap off what he called the best four years of his life.

“Even if I hadn’t come back with a medal it wouldn’t have mattered,” he said. “Because from the time I competed in Beijing to the time I was in London, you couldn’t ask for a better few years.”