In 2017, Alisson Gobeil’s parents Yanick Gobeil and Nancy Boily attended the Défi Sportif AlterGo with her for the first time. She was competing in a 2-day swimming event.

For the family, who had travelled all the way from Alma in the Lac-St-Jean region to attend the Défi Sportif AlterGo, the event was a revelation. “It was the first time we saw that [adaptive sport] competitions existed. It was a real turning point for Alisson.”

And what a turning point it was! Since then, Alisson, one of the athletic ambassadors of the 41st Défi Sportif AlterGo, has pursued quite a career. Holding 4 Canadian records in para-swimming, Alisson qualified for the finals of all the events at her first Parapan American Games in Santiago in 2023.

On Saturday, May 4, Alisson and her parents travelled from Alma to Montréal so she could meet the young para-swimmers, dive off the starting block, and take part in the 100m freestyle race. They explained that “it all started here” for them, too.


A discovery that changed everything

For Alisson’s parents, their first visit to the Défi Sportif AlterGo had a powerful impact on them. “First of all, it was emotional, because it was the first time we saw people with disabilities taking part in sports. It was the first time Alisson competed against others, all on equal footing,” explained Boily.

The young girl’s pride was as evident in her eyes as was the pride in those of her parents. “Seeing your child’s eyes full of pride like that . . . It will always be one of our favourite memories. And the competitions are so well-supervised, so well-organized, so safe, even though all the athletes have disabilities, different disabilities. It’s very reassuring for the parents. To see that it’s possible, and that it’s really well-structured, and safe. That’s what the Défi Sportif AlterGo showed us.”

It also helped them realize that Alisson could pursue a career in para-swimming. And that the sport could allow her to thrive.

The past few years have been busy ones for Alisson, who not only travelled to Chile for the 2023 Parapan American Games, but also participated in several Canadian competitions and travelled to London for her international ranking. She is currently preparing for the Paralympic trials, which will be held in Toronto later this month.


Challenges beyond the physical

The challenges of practicing para-swimming in a remote region are considerable. Because Alisson is the only para-swimmer of her calibre in the Saguenay–Lac-St-Jean region, she must always travel elsewhere to compete in adapted competitions. “At certain levels, she always has to have a chaperone, which doubles the costs. She can’t travel with other clubs or people, because she’s the only one going. So yes, [the challenges] of living in a more remote region include a lack of financial resources, as well as the number of kilometres she has to travel to be able to compete against other people with disabilities.”

But for Alisson’s parents, the fact that she has made it so far despite all the challenges is a major source of pride. “Alisson doesn’t train at a high-performance centre. The fact that she has made it so far is in large part her own doing.”

Alisson’s strength of character and willpower are indeed impressive, as is her ability to adapt, which is why her parents don’t worry about her when she heads to major international competitions. “We don’t worry too much, because Alisson has always had all sorts of adventures, ever since she was very young. She’s very adaptable, and she always finds the humour in any given situation. We’re very proud of her, but more than that, we’re happy that she gets to enjoy experiences she wouldn’t have access to in our region.”


Experiencing the Défi Sportif AlterGo

To all other parents of athletic children with functional limitations, Nancy and Yanick strongly recommend experiencing the Défi Sportif AlterGo. “People need to experience it for themselves, to see with their own eyes everything that goes on here. You have to experience it to understand it. It all starts here, for real. Both as a parent and as an athlete. Because the parents always have to be a part of it, so it’s important that they see it with their own eyes, and that they have the entire Défi Sportif AlterGo experience.”

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