By Sam Loveys
Just two years after entering competitive track-and-field, Ottawa’s Bianca Borgella sprinted to the global podium twice at the July 8-17 World Para Athletics Championships in Paris.
The 20-year-old Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club athlete loudly announced her arrival as one of the best in the world with her women’s 100 metres bronze medal and 200 m silver medal in the T13 category for athletes with visual impairments.
Her performances secured a pair of qualification positions for Canada at next summer’s Paris 2024 Paralympic Games – a stage that wasn’t even on the Rockland native’s radar while competing in high school meets just a couple years ago.
“Originally I did track for fun at school,” recalls the graduate of St. Francis-Xavier Catholic High School in Hammond. “But one time at a sports camp, a track coach told me, ‘OK, you can really run-run’ and he suggested I do track competitively.
“At first I wasn’t sure, I kind of liked my free-spirited life just doing track for fun. After I turned 18, I started training competitively and really took it seriously.”
Borgella, who has a condition called Leber congenital amaurosis, was accustomed to racing alongside athletes without disabilities, but she quickly found success in the para sport world.
At her first meet as a classified para athlete, Borgella missed her scheduled 100 m race, but spontaneously entered the 400 m at her coach’s suggestion.
“Ran the 400 for the first time and they were like ‘Canadian record’ on the spot and I was like ‘wow,’” recounts Borgella, who is coached by Gordon Cavé with the Lions. “I wasn’t supposed to run that race and I’d never run the 400 in my life.”
It didn’t take long for Borgella to put her name in the Canadian record books for the 100 and 200 m as well.
Then, on a quiet weekend meet at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility in May, Borgella registered the fastest time of the season for the T13 women’s 100 m in 12.12 seconds. (Athletes in the T13 classification are generally considered legally blind, but have some vision are able to compete without guide runners.) The performance solidified Borgella’s place on Team Canada for her first big test against the world’s best in Paris.
“I’m happy I can be a part of this community and help showcase para athletes,” highlights Borgella, who completed her second year at the University of Ottawa as a conflict studies and human rights student in the spring. “I want people to learn more about para athletes because sometimes they don’t get the recognition they deserve. They put in the same level of effort as able-bodied athletes but they’re played less on TV and social media.”
The bright lights of the World Para Athletics Championships, held at the 20,000-seat Charléty stadium, were a little intimidating at first for Borgella.
“When the TV cameras first came around, I was super shy and scared, but after I ran, I felt there’s no need to be scared – I’m just here to run,” indicates Borgella, who opened the competition by smashing her own Canadian record with a time of 12.03 in the T13 women’s 100 m heats.
She was a little slower in the 100 m final, but her 12.16 was still strong enough to earn the bronze medal behind Azerbaijan’s Lamiya Valiyeva, who won in 11.99.
“I crossed the line and I wasn’t sure if I got third or fourth and I was scared,” signals Borgella. “Then I heard I got third and I was like ‘Whoa. First worlds, first medal – wow.’ It definitely boosted my self-confidence.”
A few days later, Borgella continued her record-setting pace, snagging silver in the T13 women’s 200 m with a new personal-best and Canadian-record time of 25.00 seconds. Her second medal helped boost Canada’s medal count to 14 in total, its best performance at the para worlds in a decade.
“In the 200 m, I was in ‘best friend lane five’ and was just aiming to run a PB,” states Borgella. “I did get my PB and the silver medal, which is one step closer to gold.
“I’m very satisfied, but I think I could’ve done more to push for that gold.”
The next target for Canada’s breakout star of the worlds meet is indeed the top of the podium at the Paris Paralympics.
“I’ll be out to fight for it next year. No matter the cost, I know I can win,” underlines Borgella, who also competed for the fourth-place Canadian universal 4×100 m relay team at the worlds.
“I am stoked. I’m ready to go ahead strong and take home all the medals,” she adds. “This year I’m happy with bronze and silver, but next year I plan to take home gold.”
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