Whitehorse’s Stephanie Dixon has taken on a new role and will be Canada’s chef de mission at both the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games and the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
The Canadian Paralympic Committee announced the decision in a press release on April 17 although Dixon told the News she was informed approximately 10 days beforehand.
“I’m so excited. It’s an incredible honour,” said Dixon. “I’ve known for about a week and a half and I’ve been dying to tell people, so it’s nice to have the announcement made and be able to celebrate with my friends, my family and the community.”
Dixon, who received the Order of Canada just over a year ago, has 19 Paralympic medals in swimming — including seven gold — and retired in 2010 as one of the most successful Paralympic Canadian athletes and has continued her involvement within parasports since then through opportunities including broadcasting with the CBC at the last two Paralympic Games and serving as assistant chef de mission for the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games.
“I think my experience as an athlete is exactly why I’m going to be able to serve in this role in a meaningful and productive way for our athletes and for our country,” said Dixon. “I think that it is really hard to know what it feels like to be an athlete competing for your country unless you’ve been there, so I think my experiences and what I’ve gone through are going to be very useful.”
The role of chef de mission as Dixon sees it is two parts — be a spokesperson for Team Canada and also be a leader.
“I’ll be at a lot of press conferences or doing interviews with the media to highlight and really raise the profile of our athletes to make sure our country does get to know their stories, as well as the importance of the Paralympic movement itself,” said Dixon. “The other part is to … interact with the staff and the athletes and to share my knowledge and expertise from the years I’ve been competing.”
She said she hopes she can be a mentor and role model for athletes, helping them reach their potential.
“A lot of athletes will be competing at both (games). The Parapans are a bit of a stepping-stone to the Paralympic Games,” said Dixon. “It’s a qualifier for the Paralympic Games for many of the team sports, so I want to be able to be there for our athletes and make sure that they’re giving the best they can and have everything they need to give their performances of a lifetime.”
Speaking to Dixon, her enthusiasm and dedication is palpable.
“When I’m a spokesperson for the team, in sharing about my experiences and what it’s like to be an athlete representing your country and why the Paralympic movement is important, I’m going to be able to speak from the heart because I’ve been there and the Paralympic movement has changed my life,” said Dixon. “Not only as an athlete, but just as a person with a disability. I think I’m going to be able to speak from a very genuine place and touch the hearts of lots of people that way.”
Although the games in Peru seem far away, Dixon said she’s looking forward to the announcements to come as the makeup of Team Canada is revealed.
“They start out being a part of the athletics team, the swimming team, the rugby team and then we announce they’re a part of the Parapan American Games team or the Paralympic team and that’s when they become a part of Team Canada and we really start to make this feeling of unity amongst the athletes,” said Dixon. “I can’t wait to be there and help celebrate with the athletes as they get announced.”
Dixon said the feeling of getting the call to represent your country is difficult to convey.
“It’s really hard to put into words, I think – that moment you realize that you’ve made it,” said Dixon. “I think that it’s pride on a lot of different levels. To be so proud to be able to represent your country, and your accomplishments from that point forward are not just your own, but they’re of your country — that’s an incredible feeling.”
To get there, she said, athletes have to make choices that preclude them from taking certain paths in life.
“I don’t want to say you sacrificed a lot because all of life is always a trade off,” said Dixon. “But you put so much time and energy and heart and dedication into your goals and your dreams without knowing if it will pay off or not. It’s a huge risk and you do it because you believe in yourself and you have people around you that believe in you.”
Relaying some sense of that journey to the public is something Dixon is keen to do.
“It’s bringing me to tears just to talk about it because I remember what that felt like for me,” said Dixon. “It’s beautiful. And that’s why it’s so important to share those stories with our country, so they can feel a small part of what that journey feels like too.”
Dixon also said the progress in the last 20 years has been “absolutely incredible” in terms of recognizing Paralympic athletes and achievements.
“I think we’re at a really beautiful place right now where Olympic and Paralympic are being viewed as synonymous, and it really is being viewed more as one games,” said Dixon. “The respect and recognition is a little touching for me to see because when I was competing as an athlete, I think we were all kind of fighting to have more recognition and for people to be aware of what we’re doing.”
The takeaway for Dixon is something more universal than sport.
“Success looks and comes in all different shapes and sizes,” she said. “It means so much to me to see the Paralympic movement and where it has come to. I’m really proud to still be a part of it and continue to push it forward.”
And so, with plenty of time until the games start in Lima, Dixon said now is the time to start getting invested in Team Canada.
“Follow the journey,” said Dixon. “Get to know the athletes because when you make a personal connection with the team and the athletes before they compete, then you get so much more excited and it feels like such a person investment.”
“Start following along now and it’s definitely worth the ride.”
Contact John Hopkins-Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org