At 64, Canada's oldest Paralympian is still reinventing herself — and she's not done yet

Sylvie Morel, seen above with national-team coach Iulian Badea at London 2012, says she isn't ready to retire from the Paralympics just yet. (Courtesy Canadian Paralympic Committee - image credit)
Sylvie Morel, seen above with national-team coach Iulian Badea at London 2012, says she isn't ready to retire from the Paralympics just yet. (Courtesy Canadian Paralympic Committee - image credit)

Sylvie Morel is 64 years old. She's competing in her third Paralympics — 21 years after her first. And she's not done yet.

The wheelchair fencer failed to win a bout in the preliminary round of the sabre competition, her preferred weapon, on the first day of competition in Tokyo.

She has one more discipline — the foil — still to come on Saturday in Japan.

But that's just these Games. Morel also has her eyes set on Paris in three years.

"[I] always wanted to try javelin throw, shot put, but can never get any information or help about it in my city, Montreal, and I have been trying for years to do so. Just bad luck for me I guess," she said.

Morel says she also tried archery for over two years before giving it up on account of weakened eyesight. Pistol shooting, once an interest, was nixed for the same reason.

And so athletics is where Morel hopes to take her journey next.

"Physically I am still very active, but time will tell. I can't pronounce myself with certainty right this moment about Paris 2024," she said.

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Morel had her right leg amputated below the knee following a car accident in 1993. She took up fencing shortly after and qualified for the 2000 Sydney Games, becoming the first Canadian Paralympian in the sport and placing ninth in both the foil and epee events.

Morel also qualified for London 2012 where she earned a 12th-place finish in the epee. She failed to reach the Paralympics otherwise in the intervening years between her first and last. But it's the sting of missing 2004, specifically, that still sticks with her.

"It was our own committee, [the Canadian Paralympic Committee] I think or [the Canadian Fencing Federation] that decided I was not good enough to medal. I was ninth in the world and needed to be in top 12 to make the Paralympics," Morel said.

Courtesy Canadian Paralympic Committee
Courtesy Canadian Paralympic Committee

She says a different athlete took her place in Athens.

"I am still a bit mad about this whole situation even though it was 18 years ago. Still very sore for me. Apparently I could have made an appeal but I did not know better and no one helped me," Morel said.

Now Morel sees her future in wheelchair fencing as murky, given the lack of popularity for the sport in Canada. Since her last Paralympic appearance, she says she's fenced with one young man from Saskatchewan, plus two more that are 48 and 54 years old, respectively.

"I have been the only girl for the last 20 years. They come and go, no one stays in the program -- too bloody expensive if you are not carded by [Heritage Canada]."

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Yet Morel persists, as she has since the 1993 accident and 2004 heartbreak. In 2021, age is not an excuse for her short-lived sabre event in Tokyo.

"I thought I had prepared myself properly and as it turned out, not as well as my opponents. It is my favourite weapon so it is a bit of a letdown to not have performed the way I know I can," she said.

"Age does not matter if you got what it takes."

It is perhaps that mindset that led to surprise upon being informed she is Canada's oldest athlete in Tokyo.

"Geez, I am the oldest athlete, really? Wow, awesome."

Morel stepped onto the mat at the Makuhari Messe Event Hall on Wednesday in Japan within hours of 17-year-old swimmer Nicholas Bennett — Canada's youngest Paralympian in Tokyo — jumping into the pool for his first qualifier.

Morel's message to Bennett?

"Enjoy the chance you got to compete against the best in the world. This is only the beginning of a beautiful, fantastic life."

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