UPDATE: Camille Bérubé has won silver in the Women`s 100m backstroke S8 category, as well as bronze in the Women`s 200m IM S8 category.
For Gee-Gees swim team member Camille Bérubé, competing in the Para Pan-American Games on home soil is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Standing on the podium in Toronto is a realistic possibility for this decorated athlete but as a six-year national team veteran, showing strong leadership for the Canadian team is also high on her list of priorities. “I really want to be a great leader this summer because succeeding as a team is so much more rewarding.”
Having been part of the Olympic Games since the first Paralympics were held in Rome in 1960, para-swimming is one of the oldest events for athletes with a disability. Swimming combines various disabilities by splitting athletes into 14 classes. Para-swimming Canada explains that classes 1-10 are allocated to swimmers with physical disabilities; Class 1 swimmers having the most involved disabilities and Class 10 the least involved. Camille Bérubé swims in the S8 category – the prefix S denoting the class for Freestyle, Backstroke and Butterfly.
Bérubé has had a disability in both legs after being diagnosed with cancer at birth; she started swimming at age eight because she wanted to be involved in sport. The Montreal native quickly rose through the ranks to compete at an international level. At age fourteen, Bérubé swam a 1:28.70 time in the S8 100-metre backstroke, earning a bronze medal at her Para swimming World Championships debut. The time was just a half second off of the Canadian record.
She would go on to compete in the 2010 World Championships (Eindhoven, Netherlands), 2011 Pan-Pacific Championships (Edmonton, Canada), 2012 London Paralympics, 2013 World Championships (Montreal, Canada), 2014 Pan-Pacific Championships (Pasadena, USA) and now the 2015 Para Pan-American Games to be held in Toronto, Canada.
“[Camille] is the prototype ‘Type A’ athlete. She’s driven to be the best she can possibly be and I think being a Paralympian has instilled that in her even more,” says Bérubé’s coach of seven years, Dave Heinbuch. “[With the Gee-Gees] her leadership comes in not giving an inch. Not letting her disability affect how she trains, in everything she does. She’s amazing to watch in the dryland room and in the pool. There’re no excuses - when people see her doing the practice they have nothing to fall back on”.
Bérubé describes her experience at the Paralympic Games as surreal, unbelievable, unique and absolutely breathtaking. “Being part of a big event like the Games, where all the countries come together as one for the same purpose, is indescribable.”
Although Bérubé now knows how to mentally prepare for big events, she remembers being young and competing internationally for the first time. “It was definitely a learning experience. I remember going into the competition and not really understanding what was going on. Everything just seemed like a dream. At age 14, I was the youngest swimmer on the Canadian team but still managed my way to a podium finish. It was only the very beginning of my career and I don’t think I realized at that moment all of the amazing opportunities, friendships and memories swimming would bring me.”
Swimming at an elite level has become a lifestyle for Camille, but she hasn’t lost sight of the bigger picture: life outside of sport. “I’m often asked the question: if your swimming career ended today, what are you most proud of? My automatic answer is ‘the person I’ve become.’ Sport is not always about performance outcomes. At the end of the day, people will remember you for who you are, not the number of medals you won.”
Like many athletic endeavors, Camille’s journey to the Para-Pan Ams has had its ups and downs. She qualified for the games by mere milliseconds. It’s important to remember that even the highest level athletes do not experience success unanimously; even the most skilled athletes must exhibit perseverance and determination in the face of adversity.
Bérubé is excited to compete on home soil; she is expecting an “out of this world” atmosphere of support from her fellow Canadians, including her family and friends. Of her goals at these games Camille commented, “It has been a pretty rocky road this year but I have a feeling Pan-Ams will be great. Success is only achieved through a succession of challenges.”