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Paralympian Abi Tripp reveals how disqualification brought clarity, joy

Kingston’s Abi Tripp competes at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Submitted photo.

Kingston’s two-time Paralympian swimmer, Abi Tripp, is deep into her psychology classes at Laval University, but memories of her Tokyo Paralympic race on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 still fill her with joy, even though she was disqualified from the women’s 100 metre breaststroke.

Tripp handled the disqualification with grace, saying, “I really couldn’t ask for a better outcome—as weird as that sounds. I know that getting disqualified is the worst thing that could happen, it’s the worst scenario. It’s like I never swam in the Paralympics. But I think that this race needed to be for me. I needed to see the positive of the race, cherish the parts of that race that went amazingly well,” Tripp expressed.

She said she had been struggling over the last five years, and has even considered “throwing in the towel and hanging up my swimsuit. But now, I’m in—a hundred per cent. So thank you to Tokyo for that.”

Empty stands and vivid blue waters of the Tokyo Aquatics Center where Abi Tripp competed for the women’s 100 metre breaststroke. Submitted photo.

The race

Tripp had to wait until day eight of the Paralympics before she could compete.

“The rest of my teammates had already had several races, people were winning medals, [there was] a lot of excitement and energy. It was important for me to be supportive of my teammates, but to [also] keep up with my routine, eating the right food, staying focused and relaxed.”

The day of her competition, Tripp said she was well prepared and not nervous at all.

“I showed up at the pool with excitement. I wasn’t nervous going into it. Often you have pre-performance jitters. I knew I had nothing to lose. I didn’t want to let nervousness or negative feelings get in my way,” she explained.

While in the “ready room”—where they spend 15 minutes with other competitors—Tripp was chatting with the other swimmers when she had a moment of clarity, a reminder of why she was at the Paralympics and the reason she swims.

“I genuinely enjoy the competition, getting ready to perform. For me, I remember it very clearly, it still brings me joy. I dove into the pool and it was the coolest feeling. I’m a quiet person, so not having anyone in the stands was amazing. Just me and the pool, being able to hear the water moving past, not having any outside noise. I was going into it blind, I haven’t raced in so long,” she said.

Tokyo Aquatics Centre is the venue for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Photo submitted by Abi Tripp

“I can feel it was a good race. In the final 25 metres I can feel my kicks falling apart a bit. There was a part of me that knew this might be a disqualification.”

In breaststroke, according to Tripp, the kick is extremely important. One is not allowed to do a dolphin kick, and swimmers need to stay parallel to the surface of the water. With Tripp’s cerebral palsy and dystonia, her exception is to “show intent to kick,” so it doesn’t need to be a perfect breaststroke kick.

“There were moments in the race when I couldn’t feel my legs. I was hoping that my legs were doing what they were supposed to be doing. I struggled leading into it, but this is what I had to give,” she recalled.

When Tripp touched the wall at the end of the race, at one minute, 34 seconds—two seconds off her best time—she made sure to give a little smile as a way to communicate with her family and friends watching on TV. “I just soaked it in: the empty stands, the amazing blue of the arena.”

Another swimmer from Germany was also disqualified. “It’s tough, it’s very technical, but that’s why I love it so much,” Tripp added.

“It filled my cup even though I couldn’t go to the finals. That race represented the closing of a really tough five years for me, re-learning how to swim, how to trust my body, how to trust myself. My goal now is to build from that, to use the energy to drive forward. The fire’s there.”

A glimpse into the Paralympic Village

Tripp described the Paralympic Village as “beautiful” and almost like “stepping into another planet”.

“It’s a bunch of apartment buildings: very compact. We didn’t have to travel too far. It’s a beautiful village. Everything is going to be repurposed and created into community centres and living spaces for the population of Tokyo,” she shared.

Every country participating in the games has their own building, with their own flags flying outside. The dining hall dishes out food 24/7, with athletes not needing to pay anything.

“Everything was taken care for us. The volunteers were incredible — we didn’t even have to push the elevator button. It’s next level.”

What makes the Paralympic Village so unique, according to Tripp, is that everybody has a disability. “We’re the majority. It’s built on respect. Everybody was so excited to be there, we had respect for each other, everyone has a story. It’s a very special environment,” she said.

Tripp did not get a chance to visit tourist sites in Tokyo, as the athletes and staff were not allowed to leave the village.

A typical room inside the Paralympic Village in Tokyo. Photo submitted by Abi Tripp.

Future plans

Tripp is already training for the 2024 Paris Paralympics at the sports centre at Laval University.

“I have a coach, I’m with a new club: CNQ Club in Quebec City. I loved the swim program in Kingston, I wouldn’t be where I am without it. Switching it up, it’s refreshing to start out new. I’m excited about the next three years,” Tripp said.

One of Tripp’s hobbies is photography, and she said the most important thing is to take a step back and look at the big picture.

“You realize you’re not alone. The messages I got [after the disqualification] were more meaningful than ‘congratulations on your medal.’ It was amazing how much people felt for me, that people were more disappointed than I was. I felt that I was able to share something that was very real with people, and, to me, that had so much value. We never know what’s around the corner, often we have to adapt, change plans,” said Tripp.

A self-driving bus in Tokyo. Photo submitted by Abi Tripp.
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