From the Greek preposition “para” meaning beside or parallel, the Paralympics are meant to signify the parallel games to the Olympics. It’s the idea that the two movements exist side-by-side, according to the International Paralympic Committee.
Canadian Paralympic swimmer Benoît Huot wants to play a part in helping that movement grow by increasing awareness and showing Canadians the differences between the two events. “There’s still a lot of work to be done,” he says. “It’s better than it used to be but we need to work in the right direction to try and make that Paralympic gold medal worth the same in the eyes of the general public as the Olympic gold medal.”
Huot, from Montreal, was born with a clubfoot, which is why he’s eligible to compete in the Paralympics. The severity of a clubfoot differs among people. For Huot, he says everything below the knee on his right leg is smaller. The leg and foot are also less flexible in comparison.
“As a kid, I had to learn how to do the proper [kick] and even today it’s still very hard for me to kick normally,” he says. “It pretty much just doesn’t look normal because of the mobility in the ankle and flexibility and so on.”
Huot recently graduated from the University of Quebec in Montreal with a major in communications marketing and minor in management. Due to his full-time training schedule, it took him eight years to complete the degree.
The athlete hopes to remain connected with physical activity, physical literacy, and sports in his future. “This is something that I’d really love to do after I’m done swimming because it’s something that I’ve got from my sport and I want to try to give back as much as possible,” he says.
Huot was first able to represent Canada back in 2000 during the Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Since then, he’s qualified for every summer games and has received 19 Paralympic medals overall, nine of which are gold.
“Something that was very, very special for me was being the main flag bearer at the closing ceremony for the London 2012 Paralympic Games,” says Huot. “[They] select one athlete and I was the lucky one. After a great career, it was a real honour to carry that flag. Happens once in a lifetime!”
When he isn’t training, Huot not only works hard to shed more light on the Paralympic movement but also works to help kids with disabilities achieve their dreams of someday competing at an international level.
In 2009, Huot started the Benoît Huot Foundation after talking to American Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. The well-known athlete came to Montreal that year and helped raise $25,000 on the Foundation’s first night, says Huot.
“The objective of the foundation is really to help athletes with disabilities that have the dream to compete at the Paralympics,” he says. “So they aren’t Paralympians yet.”
Rather than supporting the high-performance elite athletes, the Foundation aims to assist those who are still working towards making the national team.
According to Huot, they tend to lose a lot of talented young athletes in their teenage years because of a lack of resources. “The objective is to support that little window of athletes.”
For young people coping with a disability in the workforce and elsewhere, Huot offers this advice: “We need to stop thinking that people with a disability are different. We’re no different than any other and we can do everything that we want.”
“If you want to become a lawyer or you want to become an accountant, you can do it. It’s the same. There’s no difference in achievement being disabled or being able-bodied. If you believe in yourself, you’ll accomplish everything.”
Photos: Canadian Paralympic Committee