Benoît Huot knows first-hand the influence an Olympian can have on a child. Watching the 1992 Olympics on television radically changed his life.
Huot, a swimmer, has now represented Canada in five Paralympic Games, winning a total of nine gold medals, five silver, and six bronze. This summer, at age 37, he’ll participate at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in a brand-new role. Huot is a host of Team Canada Champion Chats (TCCC), four live talks with Olympians and Paralympians that will give children the opportunity to connect with our country’s best athletes.
As a youngster, Huot had tried baseball and hockey but, because he was born with a club foot, struggled with agility and had difficulty integrating with the other young athletes. When he watched Mark Tewksbury win Olympic gold in the 100-metre backstroke during the Barcelona Olympics, Huot realized: This could be the sport for me!
“Seeing Tewksbury win that medal was the first time I even realized what the Olympics were all about,” he says. “I was so curious!”
Huot’s parents seized upon that curiosity and registered the eight-year-old in a swim camp. His foot still created challenges for kicking, diving, and pushing off walls. But he overcame that obstacle to achieve remarkable success in the able-bodied sport, qualifying for two Quebec Games and earning silver in 1997.
“My foot had less impact in water than on land, and I was more comfortable in individual rather than group sports. I didn’t feel the pressure to integrate. I could go at my own pace.”
Life changed for Huot again when he saw televised coverage of Canadian Paralympian Philippe Gagnon competing in swimming in 1997. Gagnon explained that he too had been born with a club foot. Once more, Huot’s parents responded promptly to this moment of inspiration and helped their son get his Paralympic designation in 1998. Two years later at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, Huot competed for Canada.
“That’s the power of storytelling,” he says. “The power of media.”
It’s also the power of parents exposing their children to excellence, to people who have found an activity they love, and then seizing upon moments of inspiration.
Watching champions can—with timely parental support—beget champions. After swimming for only eight years, 16-year-old Huot found himself collecting Paralympic gold medals.
Reflecting on the word “champion,” Huot says that it’s not just about winning. “It’s about your attitude, the way you lead. It’s about being generous, supportive, a good teammate. You have to ask yourself: how can I be better not only as an athlete but as a human being? Then you are a champion.”
With his own young daughter, Huot emphasizes playing sport every day. “We support and encourage her to be active. She will decide if she has an interest to enjoy sport on a regular basis, and we will do everything we can to give her the tools to succeed. Sport is about epanouie. Blooming is the direct translation, but that’s not quite it.”
Considering the word’s broader connotations, Huot explains that sport is a kind of self-expression and through sport people can achieve freedom, empowerment, fulfilment, and growth.
He’s excited to be involved in an opportunity for young people to connect with our country’s most elite athletes. Through TCCC, Olympians and Paralympians will share their stories of encountering and overcoming obstacles, making it clear how sports teach work ethic and resilience. When asked what participants will get from the TCCC, Huot answers with a big smile: “They will live an incredible experience. We’re going to have fun all together and we’re going to learn to be champions, for life.”
Huot and TCCC create a space for young people to be inspired—maybe even for their lives to be transformed—in the same way that his life bloomed because of role models like Mark Tewksbury and Philippe Gagnon. And because of parents who jumped on the opportunity to support their child’s passion.
Register for the live talks here.
Photo courtesy of Canadian Paralympic Committee.