CORNER BROOK Katarina Roxon’s voice is so upbeat, it’s hard to believe her as she claims disappointment in her fifth-place performance in the 100-metre breaststroke at the 2012 Summer Paralympic Games in London last week.
“I made fifth place, but I wasn’t happy with it,” she said, still sounding pretty happy.
Roxon, 19, returned earlier this week from her second Paralympics experience. The last time, in Beijing four years ago, she was the youngest member of the entire Canadian team and was coming off injury and illness during the trials. This time she felt she was ready, which might explain why she’s a little down about results that would likely have other athletes soaring.
Other than the fifth-place finish, which at 1:27.07 was less than five seconds away from a bronze medal, she placed 10th in both the 400-m freestyle and 200-m individual medley, she was 11th in the 100-m butterfly, 12th in the 50-m freestyle and 100-m freestyle and was part of the Canadian relay team that finished seventh in both the 4x100-m freestyle relay and 4x100-m relay medley.
“I wanted some best times, I wanted to make finals and hopefully get a medal, but I guess it wasn’t my time,” said Roxon, who was born with her left arm missing below the elbow. “My swims were OK ... there were a few I was happy with, but I’m just looking towards (the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) now.”
She did achieve a best time in the 400-m freestyle event and posted a best time of 1:26 during the medley relay competition.
“I haven’t been able to break my 1:27, so coming out and doing 1:26 for the relay was exciting,” she said.
She has represented Canada seven times now at the Paralympics, world championships, Commonwealth Games and others, but the thrill never fades. The nerves that gripped her as she stepped out onto the deck for her first race in London actually took her by surprise.
“I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be nervous, I’ve already been to the Games, I should be more used to this,’ but the crowd was just huge,” she said. “After the first few days I started to relax more and it became a lot easier.”
Wearing the Maple Leaf is always a point of pride though, no matter how bad the first-day jitters might be.
“You just feel like the country chose you to represent them and do them proud,” she said. “To be there with a bunch of your friends that have the same feeling ... it’s amazing.”
Protect the performance
The opening ceremonies of any large-scale event like this are usually a can’t miss, especially for the athletes themselves, but since the swimmers were scheduled to be competing in the water on the first few days of the event, it was decided they should skip the theatrics and stay diligent in their desire to — as the team’s motto states — protect the performance.
“A few of us went to the athlete’s lounge and watched it on TV,” she said. “Of course I would have loved to be there, everyone would have loved to be there, but we were there to do a job.
“We came to swim fast.”
A schedule of eight events in 10 days might seem overwhelming, but Roxon said it was a nice change of pace from smaller events where you have anywhere from five to seven events over three days.
“We only had one race a day, which was great,” she said. “For one day, you focused on one event.”
Sight-seeing was also not an option, but Roxon could have predicted that much and was able to visit London in April to take care of the tourist attractions. When she returned for the Paralympics, she never left the athlete’s village.
“It was basically just business there,” she said.
There was plenty of time to bond with her teammates, however. She stayed in a room with five other girls who ate meals together, swam together and had a blast, knowing their time together would be short.
“A few days before we all had to go we were like, ‘Guys, we’re not going to see each other for a long while,’ so we stuck together a lot.”
Fortunately, she and her teammates were able to attend the closing ceremony where Jay-Z, Rihanna and Coldplay entertained the athletes. Roxon and two of her friends on the team were unable to locate the rest of the Canadian group, so they sat with the Ukrainian team and had a great time, speaking the common language of competitive athletes.
“It was awesome,” she said. “We had a lot of fun. We danced and laughed ... it was nice to see them.”
Yet, that wasn’t her favourite moment of the experience, said Roxon, who plans to take a little bit of time off from the pool before pushing towards 2016.
That moment would be when she was glancing around the crowd for her parents Leonard and Lisa, as she’s wont to do before any of her races, she suddenly spied a familiar sight.
“I can usually never find them, but then suddenly my mom whips out this Newfoundland flag and I see it and I’m so excited,” she said. “It has to be one of my favourite moments ever, seeing that flag from back home.
“That was the 400-m freestyle that I got a best time in, so it was good,” she said. “The flag worked.”