“Is this when you arrive?” “ Eight in the morning in the large basin of the Jean-Bouin swimming pool, in Angers (Maine-et-Loire). After an hour and a half of training, her blue jersey matched with chlorinated water, Claire Supiot still finds the energy to make a touch of humor.
At 52, this disabled swimmer from Angers Natation is preparing to make sport history. She is preparing for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, in 2021, thirty-three years after having competed for the Olympic Games in Seoul, in 1988. Between the two, this slender brunette has long remained away from the pools before doctors diagnosed her Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, an inherited neuropathy causing difficulty in walking and chronic fatigue.
“My legs are certainly not working as well, but not my head or my heart …”, she smiles, moving around using a colorful cane. His very recent participation in the French handisport swimming championships in Angers, on December 12 and 13, reinforced his ambition. In the space of seven races, she smashed a French record, a European record and a world record … “Beyond the performance, it’s quite wonderful to read so much emotion around you, she confides. Obviously, it makes you want to continue to achieve great things … “
Drama of Juigné-sur-Loire
Claire Supiot’s story with swimming began early. His parents had been deeply marked by the tragedy of Juigné-sur-Loire, July 18, 1969, where 19 children had died drowned in the river. “I learned to swim when I was four and a half, she remembers. I feel great when I’m in the water, like a dolphin. ” She went to study sports at the age of 13 in Dinard (Ille-et-Vilaine), and was spotted by coach Jacques Meslier, her mentor. “I wasn’t necessarily the most talented, but I had the mind. He took me to the highest level. “
Member of the French swimming team between 1984 and 1988, she went on to nine French champion titles in the 100 meters and 200 meters butterfly then realized her dream by participating in the Seoul Olympics. Before hanging up his swimsuit. “I didn’t have a teenage years, she delivers. I discovered triathlon, got married, had three children, got divorced and raised them on my own. “
Accept the handicap
Having become a lifeguard, it was after a foot injury that she discovered Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. “It’s a handicap that I knew well, tells the story of whose father and uncle are carriers of the same disease. But when you yourself are affected, it’s something else … “
Acceptance of the diagnosis will take time. “At the beginning, I denied the disease, she admits. Then I finally understood it. ” Having become an employee of the Maine-et-Loire departmental council, where she is a disability referent, she could not imagine one day finding her way back to the Olympic swimming pools.
But it was counting without the support of her companion, convinced that she was capable of it, and an innocuous discussion with her neighbor offering her to take an aquagym class. “It wasn’t enough for me, and that’s when I got a taste for swimming again. “ Trained by Maxime Baudry and her brother Marc Supiot, she manages to regain her sensations and tame her muscle weakness.
“She has extraordinary physical capacities, observes Marc Robelet, 41, a disabled swimmer in the same club and suffering from the same disease. Above all, she has a champion’s mind that allows her to perform performances with the same intensity when others would be quickly exhausted. “ Every thousandth of a second gained over a length of water relegates the disease a little more to the background. “I know I’m not going to win against her, but she is not going to win that easily”, warns Claire Supiot who has accepted, for two years, to move at certain times in an electric wheelchair to concentrate her energy on swimming.
“If you only knew how people’s gaze changes when you are seated”, she breathes. Between nutritionist, sports trainer, physiotherapist, Pilates exercises (1) and early morning workouts, his precise schedule allows him a few micro-naps, to regain his strength. “I fully intend to go as far as possible in Tokyo, or even get on the podium, she says. I don’t get up every day at 5:20 am to finish at the bottom of the leaderboard! “
His inspiration: a family united around its values
Her swimsuit lets guess on her skin a tattoo of Marie Frisson, the paper heroine of the designer Olivier Supiot, her cousin. “With us, the family has a central place”, says Claire Supiot, trained in particular by her older brother – “Between us, a glance is enough” – and mother of three children aged 24 to 28, who strongly supported her in her acceptance of the disease. With each of her performances, she thinks of those who are no longer there, her parents or her former trainer, Jacques Meslier, “Whose values made the woman I am”. She admires the tenacity of her uncle, also affected by Charcot-Marie-Tooth. “At 83, he continues to walk and maintain his muscles. He doesn’t let go. Wearing the name Supiot is my role model and my pride. “