Paralympic gold medallist Robbi Weldon arrived home Monday night to a hero’s welcome.
The 37-year-old, who on Saturday captured the 80-kilometre tandem cycling race with partner Lyne Bessette, was greeted by her son Alex and a host of friends and family who waved Canadian flags and cheered loudly as their champion returned to Thunder Bay, her gold medal on full display around her neck.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of days for Weldon, who’s just starting to understand what it means to win gold for her country, topping the world with a time of 2:08:26, 33 seconds faster than Spain`s Josefa Benitez.
“It was wonderful, coming back to Canada,” said Weldon, a two-sport star who has also skied for Canada at the global level, including the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games.
“Arriving in Toronto the Air Canada staff were all cheering and wanting photos. It was great just to be back in Canada and knowing I was coming back to Thunder Bay. I was super excited. I knew all my family and friends and all the people who have supported me – and not just the last two years in tandem cycling, but over the last six years of my athletic career in Nordic skiing – would be here,” she said.
The come-from-behind-win erased the bitter memories of her first two races, disappointing results that saw Weldon and the retiring Bessette finish well off the podium.
“The 80-kilometre race was gruelling and really, really tough,” she said. “I was really proud of the two of us.
Though the duo failed to win at the veladrome and finished just off the podium during the time trials, it was still a pretty cool experience.
“There were 6,000 fans in the (veladrome) stands. We were matched up against Great Britain, so to be able to race against GB, it was deafening, the sound, so that was exciting in itself,” said Weldon, who has just six per cent vision, suffering from Strargardt’s disease.
“We’re world champions in the time trial, so we were hoping to win that. But it was extremely difficult. We were against the top in the world. A couple of things didn’t go our way during the race. So we were all set for the last day, the 80-k race.”
Though they crossed the line first in London, for a good chunk of the race the tandem was content to remain anonymous and bide their time in the peloton.
“We were probably feeling the pressure from the time trial and our coaches just wanted to put it out there on the road and focus on what we do best and enjoy it, have fun out there. It’s difficult to have fun racing sometimes, but we were attacking and counter-attacking in the first five laps of the 10-lap race,” Weldon said, her mother and 12-year-old daughter among those cheering in the crowd.
“With five laps to go we were at the back of the pack. We made a surprise attack on the whole peloton, zipping past the whole group … The Spaniards were next to us in the road race and they hooked up on our back wheel and we both slingshot past the group. Then it was keeping working on a sizable lead and pretty much time trialing and going all out for the last 40 kilometres.”
At that point it was all about avoiding mistakes and mechanical problems.
“With one lap to go we made a huge attack, going past the crowd to win the race, my mom and daughter being there. It was a special moment, for sure,” said Weldon, who heads to Dieppe, N.B. this weekend for nationals with new partner and pilot, Thunder Bay’s Katie Spittlehouse.
If winning gold was a special moment for Weldon, it may have meant even more to her daughter Keegan Gaunt.
It was a nail-biting few hours, she said.
“It was surreal to see that her dream came true of winning a gold medal at the Paralympics, and very nerve-wracking up to the finish line to see who crossed first,” she said.
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