TOKYO — Settling herself onto her bike, Keely Shaw looked up at coach Sebastien Travers and said "I got this."
The 27-year-old from Midale, Sask., held off a late surge from Australia's Meg Lemon to capture Canada's first medal of the Tokyo Paralympics, a bronze in the C4 3,000-metre individual pursuit, one of track cycling's most gruelling races.
"I'm not going to lie, it hurt and it hurt a lot," Shaw said. "But that's what pursuiting is, who can handle the pain, and I definitely faded at the end, but at that point it's a matter of holding on for dear life and hoping for the best."
Canadian swim star Aurelie Rivard also won bronze in the 50-metre freestyle to open her Paralympic campaign.
Shaw trailed Lemon for the first couple of laps of the Izu Velodrome in Shizuoka — about 175 kilometres southwest of Tokyo — but pulled ahead for the remainder of the race before Lemon's last-gasp kick in the final lap narrowed the gap. Shaw crossed in three minutes 48.342 seconds.
Australia's Emily Petricola won the gold, while American Shawn Morelli was second.
Shaw was too weary to immediately celebrate the medal, pedalling around the wooden track, mouth agape with exhaustion. Later, she happily showed off her medal.
"It's so heavy. I think it's probably the biggest bicep workout I've had in three years," she said with a laugh. "But yeah, it's gorgeous. There's braille on it, which I find super neat. I've been told they're made out of recycled cellphones (part of Tokyo's efforts for sustainable Olympics and Paralympics), which is super cool."
Shaw once dreamt of playing hockey for Canada in the Olympics. But in 2009, when she was just 15, she was doing farm chores on horseback and took a hard fall. She suffered a broken blood vessel in her brain and, despite months of physical rehabilitation, suffered partial paralysis in the left side of her body.
No longer able to play high-level hockey, she was plunged into a major identity crisis before discovering cycling in 2013 as a way to commute to classes at the University of Saskatchewan. She bought herself a high-end road bike as a gift to herself after graduating.
Shaw took up Para cycling in 2016 and was a quick study, capturing silver at the world championships in 2019.
Asked what the medal meant in her Paralympic debut, Shaw said "I can only hope that people are elated for me, but also inspired, and hopefully other individuals with disabilities see it as an opportunity and maybe they can do this too."
She was permitted access to the Mattamy National Cycling Centre in Milton, Ont., during the COVID-19 pandemic where she said she spent some valuable one-on-one time with coaches ahead of Tokyo.
"In a time that training was uncertain, the Games were uncertain, we were able to focus on one thing at a time, we spent a whole week working on my starts, we spent a whole week working on my strength, breaking it down so that when we came to Tokyo we could just put it all together," she said.
Shaw said she'll celebrate the podium performance for a day before she refocuses for next week's road cycling events.
Rivard, a 25-year-old from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., had hoped to successfully defend her Olympic title in the 50 freestyle on Tuesday but touched the wall in 28.11 seconds, behind Russian Paralympic Committee swimmer Anastasiia Gontar (27.38) and Chantalle Zijderveld of the Netherlands (27.42).
"I'm feeling really emotional," Rivard said. "Just standing on the podium at the Games is something really special regardless of the position and the colour of the medal.
"This said, I didn't have a bronze medal in my collection and I didn't really want one. Of course I wanted to win my title back, which is disappointing, but I’m going to deal with that later."
Rivard, who was born with an underdeveloped left hand, captured three gold and a silver at the 2016 Rio Games, and had lofty expectations for Tokyo. They felt heavy on Tuesday.
"I just put a lot more pressure on my shoulders than I thought I would," she said. "And when I walked out (onto the pool deck), I didn't feel any like excitement or adrenalin, I just felt pressure. And that definitely did not help."
The pandemic was tough on Rivard, who was competing for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Restrictions even prevented her from racing a teammate during training.
"(It's tough) to train for something that you don't know is going to happen, how, when," she said. "All year long, we kind of felt like it was slipping through our fingers. Last September, we put ourselves in the state of mind where we were expecting the worst all the time.
"So, I feel like it was really hard to get out of (that mindset) and coming into this meet in the past two, three weeks, I had trouble trying to get excited and realizing what was going on, it still feels surreal."
She said it felt "good to break the ice," and finally get a race under her belt. She hopes that will help relieve the pressure going into her other races. Rivard three gold, two silver, and one bronze) in her third Games.
Elsewhere on Day 1, Kady Dandeneau led Canada's women's wheelchair basketball opened with a 73-54 win over Britain.
Dandeneau, from Pender Island, B.C., had a triple double — 32 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists — in her Paralympic debut, while Rosalie Lalonde of Saint-Clet, Que., added 20 points, and Arinn Young of Legal, Alta., chipped in with 12 for the Canadians, who took the lead for good midway through the third quarter.
"We got the win, so regardless of what my stat line was, I think I'd be pretty happy because that was a pretty big game against GB," Dandeneau said. "They're a pretty solid team, so that was cool.
"It definitely feels good to be a big contributor in games like that. Honestly, it was just a really good team win. I have my teammates to thank for a lot of that. They're getting me open. It's definitely very much a team thing."
Canada's wheelchair rugby team dropped a narrow 50-47 loss to Britain in what was the Canadians' first international game in 18 months due to the pandemic.
"I am proud of how the guys performed," coach Patrick Cote said. "Tough start, we didn’t get a few bounces in the game which gave momentum to (Britain). We fought our way back; we did some turnovers and couldn’t convert on the last possession at the end of the third and in the fourth, that was pretty much the game."
Next up is the U.S. on Thursday.
"Our transition on offence, our key defence in the second half, those are all things we want to carry over to the American game," Cote said.
Canada's women's goalball team lost its opener 5-1 to the Russians, who got off to a quick start.
"We came to the game well prepared, but we had too slow a start," said coach Trent Farebrother. "When you let in a goal 21 seconds in, it's hard to recover. But they are a top-ranked team and getting that goal at the end should give us some confidence."
Wheelchair fencer Pierre Mainville of St-Colomban, Que., reached the round of 16 in men's sabre before he was eliminated with a 15-9 loss to France's Maxime Valet.
Canadian swimmers Shelby Newkirk of Saskatoon and Nicholas Bennett of Parksville, B.C., both set Canadian records in swimming qualifying — Newkirk in the 50 freestyle and Bennett in the 100 butterfly — but both narrowly missed making the finals.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2021.