Dean Bergeron was 18 years old when he became a paraplegic following a serious accident during a hockey training session. From that moment on, his life took an entirely different turn. He became a star in the field of athletics, notably in wheelchair racing, earning multiple Paralympic medals, including three at the Beijing Paralympic Games. The former athlete made an appearance on day one of the Défi sportif AlterGo, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Following his accident in 1987, Bergeron had the opportunity to meet people like Chantal Petitclerc, 14-time Paralympic champion in para-athletics, and André Viger, wheelchair athlete and marathon racer. For them, the Défi sportif AlterGo—which at the time was a 10-kilometre wheelchair race— was their first major competition. They were proud of the event, all the more so because it was held in their home province of Quebec. For Bergeron, the mini-marathon, where more than a thousand students danced to music and ran 500m and 1000m distances, is a testament to the staying power of the Défi sportif.
“To see that after forty years, an organization like AlterGo is able to hold a sports challenge like this proves there’s a real need for this kind of event. It’s incredible to see that nowadays, young people have access to this type of competition. It’s a launch pad for big dreams. There are a whole lot of young people feeling proud to be involved in sports. People have to experience this.”
How does one explain the Défi to someone who knows nothing about it? Before replying, Bergeron provides us with a concrete example: his daughter, who joins us. She giggles as he pulls her toward him and hugs her. “Parents who are fortunate enough to have children who are not disabled should bring their children here and let them experience this celebration of togetherness. It would help them learn to appreciate differences.”
Bergeron does not doubt for a moment that the Défi sportif AlterGo had a role to play in his journey to the Paralympic Games. Making it to the Paralympics is not something that happens overnight. One has to work their way there, and “the DSA is part of that,” Bergeron assures us. The role it plays may take different forms for people experiencing the Défi sportif AlterGo for the first time. For Dean, it’s the birth of dreams. The event allows people to forget about their differences and just be athletes.
For Bergeron, a fortieth birthday is a time to look back at what one has accomplished, while also contemplating what still lies ahead. For the 40th Défi sportif AlterGo, it is much the same.
“Everything is in place, everything is organized, everything works well. What’s the next step, the next goal? My wish for the Défi sportif AlterGo is for it to continue. To continue to grow, to continue to extend its reach. To create a presence in Quebec City and in the regions, to continue to nourish people’s big dreams.”