Meaghan Benfeito thankful for support after fire tragedy

Meaghan Benfeito of Canada competes during the Women's Diving 10m Platform final at the Budapest 2017 FINA World Championships (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Meaghan Benfeito of Canada competes during the Women's Diving 10m Platform final at the Budapest 2017 FINA World Championships (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The three-time Olympic medallist lost everything when the condo she shared with her boyfriend burnt down

Canadian diver Meaghan Benfeito has been overwhelmed with love and support after tragedy struck last Thursday.

The 31-year-old and her partner, Canadian football fullback Alexandre Dupuis saw their third-floor condo that they shared burnt to the ground after a fire broke out in the building.

Benfeito, who was home alone at the time whilst Dupuis was working, escaped with just her coat, scarf and boots, calling emergency services as she tried to ensure the safety of others in the building including her neighbour on the lower level and three children who were unable to locate their parent.

Fortunately, no one was injured.

Sadly, her three Olympic medals - London 2012 bronze medal (10m synchro) and two Rio 2016 bronze medals (10m synchro and 10m platform) along with her Pan Am Games medals, were unable to be saved. Dupuis lost trophies, jerseys and memorabila from former teammates.

Benfeito's beloved car was also crushed in the basement.

“There is absolutely nothing recoverable. Of course, it's sad. But most importantly, Alex and I are healthy and alive. Everyone got out without being hurt," she told media on Thursday.

“I’m very grateful to be alive.

“Yes, I’m tired. I don’t sleep well. I’m more mentally drained than physically, but I’m still able to function. It’s draining because that’s all you talk about, from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep — or try to sleep.”

While the medal the 2018 Commonwealth Games flagbearer received on the podium at two Olympic Games cannot be replaced, Diving Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee are trying to find a way that Benfeito can receive replacements.

Diving community rallying around

Returning to the Olympic swimming pool in Montreal on Monday for her first training session since the fire, she was overcome with many emotions when she saw her national teammates.

"It honestly felt great to see people I loved so much. I think I cried for two minutes when I saw Jenn (Abel), Caeli (McKay), Pam (Ware), Mel (Citrini-Beaulieu) and all the boys," told CBC poolside.

"It was wanting to hug them but I can't hug them but knowing they were still there for me. I was just overwhelmed with the love but also just grateful to see faces that I know are happy to see me too."

The Canadian diving community has rallied around Benfeito including former teammate Melanie Rinaldi, who set up a GoFundMe page to help get the couple 'back on their feet'. As on Thursday morning (JST) over $34,000 has been raised.

On the night the fire happened, teammates didn't hesitate to reach out immediately

"They called me, asked me if I needed anything, in the moment I didn't know what I needed but the next day they brought me bathing suits, pants, hoodies, everything that I needed to train because that's all I'm doing right now," Benfeito said.

"I've said thank-you a million times in the past few days but I don't think it's enough to repay everybody that's been there for me."

However, there has been one particular person who has been helping and that is diving partner Caeli McKay.

The pair have been through many ups and downs since coming together in 2017 after Beneito's former partner - Roseline Filion - retired after the Rio Olympics.

The duo have a special bond after Montreal-based Benefeito convinced a then 16-year-old McKay to move from Calgary to join the two-time Olympian and her family. McKay, who is now 21, describe their relationship "as kind of sisters" since they lived together for five months.

When the 31-year-old was speaking with media, she revealed that McKay has been by her side through it all from the passing of her grandma in 2019 to her injuries and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think that made us a lot closer than I thought we would ever be," Beneito said before adding that ahead of training that day McKay brought her tea, knowing they are the only tea drinkers on the team.

Still looking to Tokyo 2020

The pair were performing well heading into 2020, and at the first event of the FINA World Diving Series in February, held in Montreal, they won gold in the women's 10m synchronised platform.

It would subsequently be the only event from the Series to be held after the meets in Beijing, London and Kazan were cancelled due to the pandemic.

For Canadian divers, after pools across the country closed for just over three months, they were able to return to the pool in June 2020.

"Never thought I would be saying this but I missed being extremely sore," Benfeito wrote in an Instagram post, "95 days away from the pool was way too long. Happy and excited to be back and never ever taking a day at the pool for granted anymore."

However, Benfeito and McKay have secured Canada two spots in the women's 10m platform at Tokyo 2020 after qualifying for the final at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships.

They will have to wait until the World Cup, set to take place between 18-23 April in the Olympic host city, Tokyo, to see if they qualify as a team for the 10m synchronised event. There are only four spots left after People's Republic of China, United States and Malaysia secured qualification at the World Championships.

And despite the events of the past week, Benfeito was named Diving Canada’s Female Athlete of the Year. Throughout 2020 the Olympian impressed on and off the platform using her social media to "inspire, connect with, and train alongside the diving community".

The social media post from Diving Canada continued: "While currently going through unthinkable hardship as a result of a fire that destroyed everything she owned last week, the resiliency that Meaghan has displayed is truly remarkable. Known for her positivity, perseverance, and passion, Meaghan continues to be an exemplary role model in the diving community, even in the face of her toughest challenge."