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Paralympic swimmer Huot thrilled to get replacements for stolen medals

03/09/2015 04:14 EDT | Updated 05/09/2015 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - Benoit Huot's smile was nearly as bright as the Paralympic medals around his neck.

A little more than six months after the star swimmer had seven medals stolen from his home, he got five back Monday.

The stolen hardware was never recovered, but replacements of Paralympic and Commonwealth Games medals were re-awarded to him at a ceremony at a local high school. Two other medals from Para Pan-Am games have yet to be replaced.

"It's an amazing day for me," said the 31-year-old Huot. "The last six months have been tough, so to have the medals back is something I'm really happy about."

Burglars who broke into Huot's home in suburban Longueuil, Que., took several items, including gold and bronze Paralympic medals and a bronze, silver and gold from Commonwealth Games in 2002 in Manchester, 2006 in Melbourne and 2010 in Delhi.

Huot was devastated, even if most of the 19 Paralympic, four Commonwealth and seven Pan Am medals he has won in his 15-year career were safely stored at his parents' house.

He appealed to the public and media to help track them down. A sponsor put up a $2,000 reward hoping to have the them returned, but police never found the thieves and the medals never turned up.

Then the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Commonwealth Games Canada worked with event organizers in several countries to get the them replaced.

The medals were re-awarded to Huot at the Joseph Charbonneau school, which has a strong handicapped sports program. Five students were chosen to hang a medal around Huot's neck while dozens of others cheered. Former wheelchair racing star Chantal Petitclerc acted as emcee.

"For Benoit to have them stolen from his own house was tragic," said Petitclerc, Canada's chef de Mission at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. "They are a symbol.

"It isn't like you wake up every morning and stare at your medals, but they're part of your legacy. They're very meaningful."

Petitclerc knows how Huot feels. She misplaced the first two Paralympic bronze medals she won in 1992 in Barcelona.

"They weren't stolen, they were lost," she said. "It's very sad but, in my case, I have a feeling they're in a box somewhere."

Huot's other medals and valuables are now kept in a safety deposit box. And he has found a safe place for the replacements. They will be loaned for at least the next couple of years to the Olympic Museum in Richmond, B.C.

"They're individual medals, but they're Canadian medals," said Huot. "We won them as Canadians and they're part of the country, the heritage.

"I got amazing help from the public. I got hundreds of messages of support."

The stolen medals were of particular importance for Huot, who was born with club feet. They included his first Paralympic medal from the 2000 Games in Sydney. There was a medal from the 2002 Commonwealth Games, when handicapped and able bodied athletes competed together for the first time.

He hasn't given up hope of finding the originals.

"Who took them, where are they?" he asked. "They have to be somewhere."

Huot is still active in the pool. He is to compete at the Para Pan-Ams in Toronto this year and is aiming for the 2016 Paralympics, where he has a shot at passing Petitclerc's career record of 21 medals.

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