Canadian resilience was on full display at Tokyo Paralympics

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Canada's Aurélie Rivard poses with her S10 100-metre freestyle gold medal, one of two titles and five podium appearances for her at the Tokyo Paralympics. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images - image credit)
Canada's Aurélie Rivard poses with her S10 100-metre freestyle gold medal, one of two titles and five podium appearances for her at the Tokyo Paralympics. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images - image credit)

World records in the pool. Heaps of medals on the track. A remarkable comeback at the velodrome.

Canada may be leaving Tokyo with its fewest medals at a Paralympics since 1972, but the stories and athletes shone as brightly as ever.

It was at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre — the same venue in which Canada was so successful at the Olympics — where Canadian athletes reeled in eight medals of the country's 21 in total, including three of its five gold.

Five of those podium appearances were courtesy of Aurélie Rivard, who established her superstardom in Tokyo.

Rivard, 25, from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., won gold in the women's S10 100-metre and 400-metre freestyle events, silver in the 100m backstroke and bronze in the 50m freestyle and as part of the 4x100m medley relay team.

The 400m freestyle was the pinnacle for Rivard, who smashed her own world record by an eye-popping five seconds.

She said it was a slice of vengeance for sliding to silver in the race at the 2019 world championships — her first loss in six years.

"I made a promise to myself that it would never happen again. For the past two years, 95 per cent of my work has gone into that race. I work really hard every single day to try and maintain the pace, try to lower that time as much as possible," Rivard said.

WATCH | Rivard claims 400m freestyle gold:

Rivard also lowered her own mark in the 100m freestyle and now owns 10 career Paralympic medals — one of 10 Canadians ever to accomplish the feat.

While Rivard was asserting her dominance in the pool, a budding Canadian star made a splash herself.

Danielle Dorris, 18, made her Paralympic debut five years ago in Rio. But she broke out in Tokyo, taking silver in the S7 100m backstroke before storming to gold in the 50m butterfly.

The Moncton, N.B., native's title was an emphatic one, too. She took down the world record in heats before lowering it once more in the final.

"[The gold] means so much more. Fly is very much the event that I love the most, so being able to medal, let alone win gold, is very special to me," she said.

WATCH | Dorris sets world record:

Perhaps following in her footsteps is Nicholas Bennett, who at 17 was Canada's youngest Paralympian in Tokyo.

Though he won't go home with a medal, he broke national records in each of his four events.

"I want to show people that people like me can be taken seriously and also do what they put their mind to," said Bennett, who lives with autism.

Track and field triumphs

In Para athletics, wheelchair racer Brent Lakatos, of Dorval, Que., is 24 years older than Bennett, but his story is not done quite yet.

Lakatos went on a silver surge at these Paralympics, taking second in the T53 100m, 400m, 800m and 5,000m.

The Rio champion in the 100m was hoping to collect more gold in Tokyo and had one last chance to do so in the marathon, but fell 13 seconds shy of the podium on Sunday in Japan.

The marathon was his sixth event in Tokyo — before he carries Canada's flag in Sunday's closing ceremony. And despite the long list of metres added to his wheelchair and medals added to his collection, there may be more to come for Lakatos.

"I thought I would retire after London. I thought I would retire after Rio. Somehow, I'm still here, and that number is slowly growing," Lakatos said after his 400m silver.

WATCH | Lakatos rolls to 100m silver:

Lakatos now owns 11 career Paralympic medals.

His roommate in Tokyo, shot putter Greg Stewart, won his first.

Stewart, a native of Parksville, B.C., didn't waste much time making a name for himself, launching what would have been a golden Paralympic-record throw in his first attempt before one-upping himself on his fourth toss to set the mark at 16.75 metres.

"It can't get much better. It hasn't really sunk in yet," Stewart — who stands seven feet, two inches tall and weighs 350 pounds — said immediately after the event.

"I didn't even know I threw that first shot. I kind of blacked out from it."

Another Paralympic rookie, Victoria runner Nate Riech, had to wait until Day 11 to make his debut. But he made no mistakes in establishing a Paralympic record himself in the T38 1,500m to come away with Canada's fifth gold medal.

In total, 16 of Canada's 21 medals were won in swimming and athletics. There was also judo silver, triathlon bronze and three podiums in track cycling.

Kate O'Brien — who claimed silver for one of those cycling medals — always believed she would be in Tokyo after competing in the 2016 Olympics.

But a 2017 bike crash set her on a new path to the same destination, as the Calgary native was forced to switch to Para cycling.

WATCH | O'Brien cycles to silver:

At 33, O'Brien is now a Paralympic medallist in the women's C4-5 time trial.

"I didn't realize what a division there is between able-bodied and para. Not in a mean way or bad way. It's just there is like a very distinct division between the two," she said, adding that she was now hoping to close that gap.

"That's a huge thing I would love to get across is Para athletes are also just athletes. We're all kind of the same."

Canadian athletes won a total of 45 medals in Tokyo over the summer of 2021 — 21 at the Paralympics and 24 in the Olympics. They battled through the year-long delay of these Games and numerous training setbacks that came as a result.

In the end, there was one common trait that helped them push through: resilience.

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