Paralympic gold medallist inspires youth

Paralympics gold medallist Robbi Weldon meets children during a tour of the George Jeffrey Treatment Centre on Wednesday. (Sandi Krasowski)
Paralympics gold medallist Robbi Weldon meets children during a tour of the George Jeffrey Treatment Centre on Wednesday. (Sandi Krasowski)

By Doug Diaczuk
An athlete does not become a champion overnight. It takes years of training, overcoming obstacles, role models to aspire to and mentors to look up to.
Robbi Weldon, a gold medallist at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, is aiming to inspire a future generation of athletes and maybe even some Paralympians in Thunder Bay with help from RBC.
Weldon was officially welcomed home Wednesday at the George Jeffrey Children’s Centre where she presented a cheque for $5,000 on behalf of RBC to support sports and recreation programming.
The donation is part of a program that allows Paralympians to choose a charity they would like RBC to support.
“I chose the George Jeffrey Children’s Centre, as it’s been a long-time service provider to children in the community, not only in Thunder Bay, but all of Northwestern Ontario,” Weldon said.
Nancy Rissanen, president of the George Jeffrey Children’s Foundation, said the money will support programs like cycling, skating, kayaking camps, and other recreational activities.
Rissanen said it was wonderful to have Weldon at the centre to make the donation, because she is an inspiration to children who are living with a disability.
Weldon has a long list of accomplishments and she wasn’t going to let a physical disability slow her down, even at a young age.
She began to notice trouble with her vision when she was 11, but didn’t think anything of it because she excelled in school and sports. It wasn’t until she was 15 and her high school teachers began to notice she was having problems that she had her eyes tested.
Weldon was diagnosed with Stargardt Disease, which causes progressive vision loss to the point of legal blindness. Her vision continued to weaken, and today she has only six per cent vision.
A strong athlete in her youth, Weldon continued to push herself in a variety of sports, and now she holds the distinction of being a Paralympian in the Summer and Winter Olympic Games.
Weldon’s accomplishments so far include three world records in power lifting in 1996; third overall in IPC World Cup Para-Nordic Points in 2008; fourth in team relay and fifth in classic sprint in the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, and a four-time gold medallist in cycling at the 2011 Para Pan Am Games.
The top prize has always been Olympic gold and Weldon can place the London medal at the top of her list of accomplishments.
“Its number one up there,” she said. “It’s fantastic. It’s a huge accomplishment and I’m very proud of it.”
Weldon and her partner Lyne Bessette placed first in the women’s individual 80-kilometre road race at the London Games. During the last leg of the race, Weldon recalled, they attacked the cyclists from Spain during the last seven km and went all out the rest of the way. The teams can travel at speeds topping 40 km/h and Weldon’s heart rate rose as high as 190 beats per minute.
“There were so many things going through my mind,” Weldon said. “But number one was giving it my all.
“All the hard work that goes into it, you don’t want to leave anything on the course. Going through the finish there was just tons of emotions and just thrilled to win gold for Canada and bring it back to Thunder Bay.”
For the immediate future, Weldon plans to spend time with family and friends before jumping back into training for world races in Quebec next year and the Paralymic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. She is also hoping to grow the sport of cycling and develop the tandem team in Canada.
For the potential young athletes out there, Weldon said it’s important to just find the passion, whatever it is — athletics, music, art. She said there are many opportunities for everyone, even in Thunder Bay, and there are role models and mentors to help out along the way.
“I would love to be a role model and mentor,” Weldon said. “I had many mentors along the way. If I can help children in our community and give them a hand and show them that it is possible, if you have a dream and are passionate about it that you can work towards it.”