#40: André Viger

Written by ParaSport Québec

André Viger was born September 29, 1952 in Windsor, Ontario. He grew up in Quebec; as a child his entire world was Sherbrooke.

At the age of 20, everything changed. Victim of a car accident, he becomes paraplegic. The friend who was at the wheel had fallen asleep. The year is 1973.

A passion for Sport

But the man was a model of determination and perseverance, he would not let tragedy determine his fate. Two years later, André decided to forge himself a new place in society.

He turned to sport, specifically wheelchair athletics. At the time, wheelchair athletes were an absolute rarity in competition, but nevertheless, he followed an intense training regimen to dedicate himself to his new passion.

In 1979 he began racing in earnest and won his first marathon. Initially the managers of the Beauce marathon refused to let him and his peers race, judging it too risky and dangerous for the athletes. This anecdote paints a clear picture of the challenges André Viger had to overcome to simply practice his passion and change prevailing attitudes about wheelchair athletics. The road seemed long indeed.

Countless marathon medals and a quarter century later, wheelchair athletics – and wheelchair sports in general – have carved a genuine place in the international sports landscape, even being an integral part of the Olympic Movement. This monumental progress and this recognition owe their debt to André’s will and tenacity. Maybe without him another athlete would have carried the torch and acted as catalyst, but it was André who did it.

This is the reason he deserves sincere gratitude from all fans of wheelchair sports.

Mel Fitzgerald (left) and André Viger compete at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles
Mel Fitzgerald (left) and André Viger (right) compete at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles

Record of a Titan

His exploits are impressive: a veritable mountain of medals and titles from the world over. He took part in the most prestigious of events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and tore down a few renowned names. He won almost everything that he could possibly win on the wheelchair athletics circuit. A long-distance specialist, he even returned from the 1992 Paralympic with a gold in the 10000 meters... at 40 years of age!

By accumulating so many victories and drawing attention to his exploits and discipline, the echo of his performances ventured farther and farther, even beyond the world of sports. As a result, and as a token of admiration for his work and endless efforts, he has received numerous honours and prizes throughout his career, most notably he was made Officer of the Order of Canada and Knight of the National Order of Quebec. One loses count of the number of distinctions he has earned. But beyond asserting himself as one of history’s greatest wheelchair athletes, he brought a paradigm shift within the public: the possibility of a fulfilling life for the physically disabled.