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One of Canada’s most successful Paralympians, now a swim coach, fitness instructor and public speaker as well as the chef de mission for Team Canada in Tokyo, should win her 20th medal for the ingenious way she’s kept her various business ventures up and running during COVID-19.

In early March, when most of her activities could have come to a screeching halt as the pandemic restrictions closed in, Dixon, who hails from White- horse, Yukon, decided to tackle things in her normal tenacious style. Consequently, she and her clients, have barely missed a beat.

When the Olympic size swimming pool where she is the head coach for 120 plus swimmers shuttered its doors, Dixon realized that in order for her athletes to remain motivated and actively training, she had to think fast. Hence her 30-day challenge and swim bingo contests were born!

Each swimmer was charged with completing a fun mix of prescribed fitness tasks and public service activities, including making a donation to the food bank. And, once it was safe to go in the water, she encouraged them to don their wet suits and take a dip in a collection of her favourite northern lakes. “It was right after the ice melted and the water was really cold. The idea was just to be bold enough to get in splash around and get out,” Dixon says, adding that in one lake there was still a huge iceberg in the background when she led a group into the water.

Picture of Stephanie Dixon and another swimmer in swim gear standing at the edge of a lake.

Dixon and her swimmers continue to swim in the lakes expecting that their indoor practice pool will likely remain closed until the last stage of COVID-19 reopening. “The water, pool deck and change rooms are considered high risk areas and if they limit the number of participants, it makes it difficult for the pool to operate financially,” she explains.

For her fitness classes and personal training, Stephanie received early permission from authorities to hold sessions outdoors in the empty field of a closed elementary school. To keep her 10 participants in each class safe during their workouts she places orange pylons two metres apart and stays clear herself. No one can share equipment and only one person uses each mat before it’s disinfected and prepped for the next class.

As for her work as an ambassador and public speaker, Dixon normally travels extensively. Unable to do that, she’s adapted to give her keynote speeches online. And, ever the “can-do optimist,” she sees the positive in this new approach. “I’ve been doing more and more things over zoom which is going to let me reach more people and limit the carbon footprint of our travel.”

As far as Ms. Dixon’s role as the chef de mission for Team Canada at the upcoming Paralympics in Tokyo, which has now been postponed until 2021, she’s grounded there too by travel restrictions. She’s had to send messages of support to athletes from afar. “It’s been so neat to see different organizations and events and how they are adapting,” she says, adding that, “in tough times we get resourceful and some of the most creative ideas are born.”

One thing the upbeat Dixon would like to change is the way she’s found herself subconsciously looking at the ground as she passes people in the street. “I guess it was making me feel safer not to engage. I’m not sure why but I have been very conscientious of late to look people in the eye. Just because we can’t be close to each other doesn’t mean we can’t share a warm smile when we greet one another. We can still connect as humans even though we are staying physically apart.”

Picture of Stephanie Dixon swimming for Canada in the paralympics.

5 ways to build resilience and stay motivated from Stephanie Dixon

  1. Be intentional and deliberate about your support system. The people around us heavily influence our thoughts and actions and most importantly, how we feel about ourselves. Surround yourself with people who make you feel seen, heard and valued.
  2. Limit exposure to social media. We are in a very heavy time and most of us are feeling sensory overload and overwhelmed. Swap a few dives down the social media rabbit hole for short quiet or meditative sessions. Wonderful free apps are Calm and Insight Timer to help you stay focused. When our minds are quiet it helps to put things into perspective and life and its struggles can feel more manageable.
  3. Get Outside! Nature is healing and restorative. While maintaining physical distance from others, make time to get outside! Moving your body will slow the pace of your mind and your day.
  4. Read books, watch Ted Talks, listen to podcasts that INSPIRE you. In this tough time, it can be easy for our minds to spiral into a negative narrative. Uplift yourself with positive, encouraging and educational content.
  5. Armour yourself with knowledge and resources! Do research about what resources are available for you right now. Many people’s lives have been turned upside down and there are many organizations providing financial support and/or resources to help Canadians get back on track. Find out what you are eligible for and which local organizations have support for you!
Picture of Teddy Katz.

Teddy Katz was a CBC sports journalist for 20 years, and chief spokesperson and director of media relations for the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games. More recently, Teddy helped run the press office for the International Paralympic Committee in Rio and will be at the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games.

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Canadian Abilities Foundation

The Canadian Abilities Foundation (CAF) is a registered Canadian charity. CAF was founded in 1986 and has since been a national leader and partner with other organizations and governments on various projects related to disability and communications.

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