MONTREAL – A two and a half week humanitarian trip to Tanzania this past January brought a lot of perspective to Canadian Paralympic swimming queen Valérie Grand’Maison.
The 24-year-old visually impaired athlete, who graduated in May in psychology at McGill University and is now pursuing a placement in medical school, says the trip strengthened her resolve to he help people in her post swimming career.
‘’I was on a 20-person medical caravan and my main job was to take blood and urine samples from patients,’’ said Grand’Maison, who will compete at the IPC Swimming World Championships from Monday through Aug. 18 in Montreal.
‘’Every day we went through the jungle to different communities, many of them in difficult situations. It really puts your own little dramas into perspective.’’
Grand’Maison says her career as a high performance athlete provided a solid base for her African journey.
‘’It was non-stop,’’ she said. ‘’We worked 12-hour days. The hard work and discipline every athlete needs to succeed as well as my travel experience were very beneficial to me in Africa.’’
After such an amazing trip and completing her university degree, Grand’Maison has also been training hard for the upcoming world championships.
‘’It is going to be very special to compete in Montreal,’’ she said. ‘’Usually when I race it’s in another country and I always pretend that the crowd is cheering for me. Now it’s actually going to be true racing at home.’’
Grand’Maison is scheduled to race in the 200-m individual medley, 50-m freestyle, 100-m freestyle and 100-m butterfly.
At the last world championships in 2010, Grand’Maison was Canada’s individual star with six medals just two years after picking up four, including three gold, at the Beijing Paralympics. In London, she collected a gold (world record in 200-m IM) and two silver.
When you talk to Grand’Maison it’s easy to forget she’s had a macular degeneration since age 12, first in one eye, then, at age 15, in the other. The condition has left her with 10 per cent vision in one eye and only five per cent in the other. Still, she has persevered through swimming and through school and university.
There is no doubt, whether she continues swimming after the Montreal worlds or not, she will achieve excellence in her next pursuits.