He’s one of the most successful Canadian Paralympians. Here’s how friends, and, most importantly, family helped him reach such great heights.
Though Benoît Huot has been swimming for 25 years, competing on the world stage for almost as long and racking up accomplishments just about every time he competes—think, 19 Paralympic medals, 29 IPC Swimming World Championships medals and 60 world record-setting swims—swimming was not his first choice.
Instead, like most other little boys in Montreal in the early 90s, he wanted to play hockey. “I wanted to be a goalie like Patrick Roy,” he says. “But it didn’t work. I was born with a clubfoot on my right leg, and my parents really supported me, but they were afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to skate properly. The first time I jumped on the ice, it took me two minutes to realize that hockey was only going to be a dream.”
Benoît kept trying sports, though. The next year it was baseball, but that didn’t really work either. And then, one week in 1992, two important things happened: first, his friend, Stéphane, won a medal at the Quebec Games, a province-wide mini-Olympics for kids 15 and under. And second, swimmer Mark Tewksbury won gold for Canada at the Barcelona Olympics. Benoît told his mom he wanted to try swimming, and suddenly the whole course of his life changed.
“It was the first time I tried an individual sport—a sport that I could go at my pace, I could go at my rhythm. The cool thing about water is, you feel kind of free. So even though I had a little difference, I didn’t feel it for the first time,” he says.
Not that he knew what his first dip in the pool would lead to; at eight, swimming was just a fun pastime. But at 13, when he saw Paralympian Philippe Gagnon swimming at the Canada Games, Benoît realized just how far he could go. Six months later, he had found out he was eligible to compete on the Paralympic circuit, made the national team, met Philippe (who became his mentor) and was en route to New Zealand for a competition. It was the first time he had travelled without his parents. After his first race, where Philippe took gold and he came in second, he called them to give them the news.
“My mom takes the phone and she says, ‘Oh, how did it go?’ And I said, ‘I came second! I came second!’ And she starts crying and she says, ‘It’s the first, but last time I’m going to miss one of your races,’” he says.
And that’s exactly what happened— Benoît’s parents accompanied him to Australia for the Sydney Paralympic Games two years later, to every Paralympics since. They were his support system after a disappointing performance at the summer games in Beijing in 2008, and when his medals were stolen from his home in 2014. And they’ll be with him as he competes in Rio this summer.
“My parents have been there since the beginning,” he says. “They were parents that simply wanted their kids to be happy and to enjoy themselves. I never felt that it was difficult for them to bring me to the pool, for example, even though they were early morning workouts. And they were very supportive whether [my performance] was a victory or a defeat.”
Benoit’s Quick Questionnaire
1. What's your good-luck charm? My cat, Duke
2. What song do you play to pump yourself up? Some good old ACDC
3. What food is your guilty pleasure? Chocolate
4. What's your biggest fear? I don't like to fly on planes
5. What's your favourite quote/mantra/affirmation? Never give up on your dreams
6. If I weren't a swimmer, I'd be… a tennis player or golfer
7. I'm proud to be Canadian because… it's the best country on earth
8. Someday I hope to… swim across the Atlantic Ocean
9. Right now I'm reading or watching… I’m reading The Inner Game of Tennis and watching House of Cards
10. One thing you probably don't know about me is… I am good with stats. I seem to remember a lot of numbers