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Island triathletes eager to make golden debut at Paralympic Games

Chantal Givens vividly recalls volunteering at the 2001 world championships in her hometown of Edmonton, and seeing Victoria’s Simon Whitfield race, just one year after his golden breakthrough at Sydney when triathlon made its Olympic debut.
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Paralympics triathlon athletes, from left, Stefan Daniel, Sasha Boulton, Christine Robbins and Chantal Givens pose after being named Tuesday to the Canadian Paralympic team for next month's Rio Summer Games.

Chantal Givens vividly recalls volunteering at the 2001 world championships in her hometown of Edmonton, and seeing Victoria’s Simon Whitfield race, just one year after his golden breakthrough at Sydney when triathlon made its Olympic debut.

Born without a left hand, Givens never thought it would be possible to follow Whitfield into a Games. But the sport continues to evolve with triathlon making its Paralympics debut this summer in Rio, with Givens along for the ride. Givens and teenage prodigy Stefan Daniel, along with Christine Robbins and her guide Sasha Boulton, were named Tuesday at Crystal Pool as Canada’s first-ever Paralympians in triathlon.

The dreams, desires and commitment are no different for Paralympians than for Olympians. It goes without saying that most Paralympians have had to overcome a lot more in life to get to the Games.

The Canadian Paralympics triathlon team is coached by Carolyn Murray of Victoria, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“These are athletes. The message and intent is always the same for any high-level performers — to push your limits and be as good as possible,” said Murray.

It is telling that Givens notes the modifications to her bike, because of her absence of a left hand, are “not so much for safety as for performance.”

“The goal is the podium,” added the high school P.E. teacher.

Givens and Daniel are racers in the PT4 class, which involves athletes with limb impairments. Ottawa’s Robbins, who will compete in Rio with her guide Boulton, is in the PT5 class for those with visual impairment.

The defending world men’s PT4 champion Daniel, who moved from Calgary to Victoria to train, is only 19. He is potentially poised to do in Rio what Whitfield did in bursting onto the Olympic stage that sparkling morning in Sydney 16 years ago – become the first male Paralympics gold medallist in triathlon.

“I want to win the gold,” said Daniel, also the defending Canadian able-bodied junior champion.

He comes from an active family — dad Chris Daniel is an Ironman triathlete — and Stefan Daniel said being born with a club hand did not prevent him from playing soccer, running cross-country and swimming. When triathlon was announced in 2013, for its Paralympics debut this year in Rio, an ambition was set in motion and eventually the move made to Victoria.

“There are a lot of good triathletes and runners here to train with … and being able to ride outside in the winter is huge,” said Daniel.

More than 50 athletes from the Island, or those who train here, will be competing in the 2016 Olympics from Aug. 5-21 and Paralympics from Sept. 7-18 in Rio.

None of the Paralympics-bound triathletes expressed concerns about the Zika virus, security or the sanitary conditions in Rio water venues.

“We have to trust our people on the Canadian team whose job it is to see that things are safe,” said Givens. “I don’t want to expend too much energy or stress over things I can’t control. I need to focus on performance.”

Daniel concurred.

“I stay away from the media articles and distractions,” he said.

“We have good people looking into it on the Canadian team and we will take good precautions. I’m not too concerned about it.”

ROAD TO RIO: The Rio Olympics-bound Canadian men’s field-hockey team — including UVic Vikes grads Keegan Pereira, Matthew Sarmento and Brenden Bissett — will be conducting a community clinic for Island players of all ages Thursday at 6 p.m. on the UVic pitch. Suggested donation is $20.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com