By Jim Morris
The grievous death of French swimming star Camille Muffat sent ripples of disbelief and sorrow through the Canadian swimming community.
“It was sad news,” said Para-swimmer Benoit Huot. “I believe we are all in a big shock.”
Many Canadian swimmers took to Twitter to express their regrets.
“Muffat was an inspiration to many. RIP,” tweeted national team member Amanda Reason.
Not every Canadian swimmer knew Muffat personally but most still experienced a feeling of loss.
Retired swimmer Annamay Pierse remembers exchanging smiles with Muffat when the two would pass on the pool deck at competitions.
“It is still so shocking and crazy that something like this has happened,” said Pierse. “It just doesn’t seem like a real thing. I mean helicopters crashing (in midair), it seems more like something from a movie than real life.”
Muffat was one of 10 people killed Monday when the helicopter she was riding in collided with another in Argentina. The helicopters were involved in the filming of a TV reality show called Dropped.
Besides Muffat, yachtswoman Florence Arthaud and Olympic boxer Alexis Vastine also died in the crash that claimed eight French nationals and two Argentine pilots.
The 25-year-old Muffat won three medals at the 2012 London Olympics, including gold in the 400-metre freestyle. She also claimed silver in the 200 freestyle and a bronze in the 4×200-m freestyle relay. Muffat announced her retirement from summing last July.
Ahmed El-Awadi, Swimming Canada’s chief executive officer, said Muffat’s death came as a blow.
“We are deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of Camille in this terrible tragedy,” said El-Awadi. “The world has lost a tremendous person, athlete, swimmer and Olympian.
“Swimming Canada extends it heartfelt condolences at this most difficult of times to Camille’s family and all the families of the helicopter disaster.”
Like many people retired freestyle swimmer Brent Hayden watched the video of the crash. Watching the accident increased the impact of the tragedy.
“I think it touched a lot of people, not just in the swimming world but in the whole sporting world as well,” said Hayden, who won a bronze medal in London.
“She wasn’t the only athlete on (the helicopter). There were 10 people in total. That’s a number of families. A lot of people are in mourning over this incident.”
Athletes often present an image of invincibility. They achieve greatness through dedication, strength and persistence. A sudden, unexpected death can shatter this illusion of indomitableness.
“It shows that at the end of the day we are all human,” said Huot. “An accident can happen so quickly.
“She was a role model for many swimmers around the world, especially in France. You think there is an aura around some individuals. It comes back to the fact we are all human beings and an accident can happy very quickly.”
Hayden understands why the death of an athlete like Muffat can trigger special emotions.
“People have witnessed them on TV,” said Hayden. “They felt some sort of emotional attachment.
“When you cheer for someone for so long, when they finally win – even if you have never met that person – you kind of feel like you supported them and you have an emotional connection to them. When that happens, you have lost a hero.”
Huot said Muffat’s death should serve as a reminder.
“Life is fragile,” he said. “This is the reason why it is important to really embrace and celebrate and live every single day we are on this planet because we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow.
“She was an Olympic champion and now she is gone so young. Life is all about having dreams and goals. Without them I I think there is no sense to all of this.”