uOttawa’s Paralympian pride

Posted on Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Andrew Todd wearing lycra shorts and sleeveless shirt with an oar slung across his shoulder

2016 Paralympic Games rower Andrew Todd (BSc and BASc ’14) says some of his best rowing memories are from the University of Ottawa. “It made a complete university experience for me, not only from an academic standpoint but also from sports and being able to make friendships.” Photo: Kevin Light Photo.

By Gazette staff

Editor’s note: Andrew Todd and his teammates won bronze in the LTA mixed coxed 4 event in Rio, Canada’s first medal in the sport since rowing was introduced to the Paralympic Games in 2008.

Two Paralympians with ties to the University of Ottawa have very different stories to tell but both fought against the odds to compete in the 2016 Paralympic Games.

In spring 2013, when former rowing Gee-Gee Andrew Todd was competing for a spot on the Canadian lightweight men’s world championship rowing team, a school bus hit him while he was cycling. The accident almost ended his life, and his dream of one day competing in Brazil as an Olympian.

The severity of Todd’s injuries meant he might never row again. However, with the support of his parents, his grandmother and his girlfriend, Jenna Pelham (BSc ’12 and former Gee-Gees rower), he got through 28 months of recuperation and more than 10 operations.

“My right quad and hamstring is about three quarters as strong as my left due to all of the damage to the muscle and to the knee," Todd said. “I’ve got permanent nerve damage in my lower right leg that causes ankle mobility and strength weaknesses. And I shattered my pelvis and broke my knee in a bunch of spots.

“I used rowing itself as a big motivator to recover,” he added. “I knew that getting back into a boat and rowing would help.”

“When the accident happened I wouldn’t have thought (going to Rio) was possible! I surprised myself!”

Todd’s event at the 2016 Paralympic Games, from September 9 to 11, is the LTA coxed 4, a para-rowing class whose name stands for “leg, trunk and arm,” with a coxswain and four rowers: two men and two women. He rowed on the LTA coxed 4 team that placed third at the 2015 World Rowing Championships in France, winning Canada its spot at the Paralympics. It was his first international race.

Originally from Thunder Bay, Ont., Todd only started rowing in 2007 and competed on the Gee-Gees competitive club team from 2008 to 2011. In 2012, he continued training with the Gee-Gees but had his sights on getting a spot on the national team. The next year, he received a tryout invitation from Rowing Canada. He was in training when the accident happened.

Now, after intensively training for the Paralympics on the water and in the gym at Rowing Canada’s training facility in London, Ont., Todd is back on track to live his dream of competing in Rio de Janeiro.

“I’m excited to be going to the Paralympics but I’m also recognizing my work isn’t done yet. I need to stay focused on what I need to do now, so I can really cherish that moment later.”

After the games, Todd, who completed a joint science and engineering program and holds degrees in biochemistry and chemical engineering (biotechnology), wants to continue rowing and pursue a career in medicine.

“That’s why I did the biotech program in the first place. I think my recovery has taught me a lot and reinforced my desire to try and help people through medicine.”

Second Paralympics for swimmer

Camille Bérubé wearing a swimsuit, with her muscular arms crossed

Camille Bérubé. Photo: Richard A. Whittaker.

Better late than never: Camille Bérubé only recently received the good news that she will be competing at the Paralympic Games. Heading into her third year of swimming with the Gee-Gees, Bérubé will compete at the Paralympics for the second time.

The Gatineau native was one of four swimmers added to the Canadian team on August 29, bringing the number to 26. The additional spots were made possible as a result of the suspension of the entire Russian Paralympic team by the International Paralympic Committee.

For Bérubé, the announcement was a second chance, after she missed qualifying during trials in April by a tiny margin. It was a tough blow for the accomplished competitor, who captured three medals at the 2015 Parapan Am Games in Toronto.

“Words can’t express my feeling of pride to be heading to my second Paralympic Games,” tweeted the communications major. In Rio, she will compete in the 100-metre breaststroke. She claimed a bronze medal in that event at the Parapan Am Games.

As a result of cancer diagnosed at birth, Bérubé has limited mobility in her legs. She has had to push herself to become the high-level athlete she is today.

“We’re extremely proud of Camille and I know that she will be a great ambassador for Canada once again,” said Gee-Gees head coach Dave Heinbuch, who was also Camille’s club team coach before she started swimming for the Gee-Gees. 

Bérubé competed at the 2012 London Paralympics in four different events, finishing 11th in both the 100-metre backstroke and the 200-metre IM.

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