Yukon swim coach selected for national Hall of Fame

Whitehorse's Stephanie Dixon has stood atop many podiums around the world, in world championships and Paralympic Games. She has won many medals and touched many lives, and for this she deserves recognition.

Whitehorse’s Stephanie Dixon has stood atop many podiums around the world, in world championships and Paralympic Games. She has won many medals and touched many lives, and for this she deserves recognition.

The Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons agrees.

Dixon will be inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame in Toronto, it was recently announced.

“It’s a huge honour, for sure,” said Dixon. “I got the call from a dear friend of mine who runs the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons (CFPDP) – his name is Vim Kochhar – and he actually gave me my first really big award back in 2001 after my first Paralympic Games. It was really nice to catch up with him and receive another award from him and his foundation.”

The CFPDP, established by the Rotary Club of Toronto in 1987, founded the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. Spots on the wall are reserved for “outstanding Canadians who have made extraordinary contributions to enriching the quality of life for people with physical disabilities,” as described by the CFPDP website.

Dixon had an incredible competitive career, but there’s more to the story.

The 29-year-old, who was born with one leg, has spent the last two years as head coach for the Whitehorse Glacier Bears Swim Club.

She is currently in Quebec as head coach of Yukon’s swim team at the Canada Summer Games that begin Saturday in Sherbrooke.

Dixon’s position with the club came about in a serendipitous way. During travels following her retirement from competitive swimming, she happened to be in Whitehorse when the position opened up.

“I took some time to go travelling and figure out what I wanted to do,” said Dixon. “But I knew I wanted to work with kids and get into coaching. But it wasn’t on purpose that it was in Whitehorse. I came up here to visit some family and I didn’t even realize the coaching position was available. I worked with some of the swimmers, found out it was available and decided to apply after I was already here.”

Dixon’s illustrious career had early beginnings. She began swimming lessons at age two and started competing at age 12.

“My parents enrolled me in all sorts of different sports,” said Dixon. “I had an older brother and they didn’t want me to feel like I wasn’t able to participate in the same things he did. So my brother and I were enrolled in all sorts of different sports.”

She went on to become one of the most decorated Paralympians of all time, collecting a total of 19 medals, including seven gold, over three Paralympic Summer Games.

She swam at the 2000 Summer Paralympics in Sydney, Australia, the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece, and the 2008 Games in Beijing, China.

Dixon has also won medals at three IPC Swimming World Championships and one Commonwealth Games in the para-sport category.

While getting a degree in psychology from the University of Victoria, Dixon competed at two university swim nationals and in 2005 placed 16th against able-bodied swimmers.

“I just started (competing) because I loved it,” said Dixon. “I’m not a ridiculously competitive person. I’m competitive with myself, but not really in terms of other people. I just got into it because I loved it and wanted to improve and the results just came after that.”

After the Canada Games, Dixon is leaving her full-time coaching gig. She has accepted the position of team ambassador for the Canadian Paralympic Committee for the Sochi Paralympic Games next year in Russia.

“I did intend to come back to the Glacier Bears for another year, but it was a great honour to be named ambassador for the Canadian team, so I couldn’t refuse,” said Dixon.

However, Dixon will keep Whitehorse as her home base and will continue to be involved with the Glacier Bears.

Dixon will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on November 5 alongside fellow Yukoner Ramesh Ferris, a polio survivor who famously rode his hand cycle across Canada in 2008 and continues to work towards the eradication of the disease.

They will be the first Yukoners inducted into the hall, which includes Canadian icon Rick Hanson, who was inducted in 1993.

“They’ve never had a Yukon inductee before, so it’s pretty cool there are two this year,” said Dixon.

The Glacier Bears club has found a replacement for Dixon but has not responded to an information request by the Yukon News.

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