Sec­ond never good enough as Par­a­lympian Michelle Stilwell retires

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

A sec­ond place fin­ish at the Par­a­lympic Games marks a su­per­hu­man ef­fort for most peo­ple, but win­ning a sil­ver in Lon­don wasn’t good enough for Michelle Stilwell.

She says the sil­ver in the 100 me­tres wheel­chair race at the 2012 Games was a ca­reer low point.

Stilwell, one of the world’s most dec­o­rated Par­a­lympic ath­letes and the first Cana­dian Par­a­lympian to win gold in two dif­fer­ent sports, an­nounced her re­tire­ment Wed­nes­day night af­ter a stel­lar ath­letic ca­reer, win­ning seven Par­a­lympic medals, in­clud­ing six golds, and nu­mer­ous world cham­pi­onship ti­tles.

“Most peo­ple would say, ‘How can you not be happy with a sil­ver medal,’’’ Stilwell said in an in­ter­view be­fore her an­nounce­ment. “But when you know you are ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing gold and you come back with sil­ver, know­ing it was 100 per cent your fault and af­ter 1,760 days of prepa­ra­tion for a less than 20-sec­ond event, it’s hard to take.’’

She said she slipped at the start of the race and it cost her the gold medal.

“In 100 me­tres you need to be fo­cused and my head wasn’t where it needed to be,’’ said Stilwell, who is also the Lib­eral mem­ber of the B.C. leg­is­la­ture for the Parksville-Qualicum rid­ing on Van­cou­ver Is­land and a mem­ber of Premier Christy Clark’s cab­i­net. “I let my coun­try down. I let my fam­ily down. I let my sup­port­ers and spon­sors down. That’s hard to carry.’’

But Stilwell, 42, was back on top of the podium last sum­mer, win­ning two gold medals for Canada at the Rio Par­a­lympics. She raced to vic­tory in both the 100 me­tres and 400 me­tres.

Noth­ing could be sweeter at that mo­ment than hear­ing O Canada and hav­ing the gold around her neck, she said.

Stilwell, her voice crack­ing, said the vic­tory marked her last stand in a ca­reer where she ap­proached ev­ery race as if it was her last.

“Over Christ­mas, I ac­tu­ally for the first time went on a fam­ily va­ca­tion that wasn’t sport re­lated,’’ she said. “I ac­tu­ally got to spend time with my boys and en­joyed those mo­ments and re­al­ized that is some­thing I want to do more of.’’

Stilwell, who was born in Win­nipeg, said re­lax­ing with her hus­band Mark and son Kai on a beach in Mex­ico was when she knew she could re­tire.

“I feel like it’s the right time and I’ve done what I want to achieve at the Par­a­lympic level,’’ she said. “It’s a good time to look ahead and pre­pare for what the fu­ture holds.’’

Stilwell’s im­me­di­ate fu­ture in­volves fight­ing a spring pro­vin­cial elec­tion cam­paign.

She is the min­is­ter of social de­vel­op­ment and social in­no­va­tion, a post that of­ten thrusts her to the fore­front of fund­ing and social is­sues in­volv­ing dis­abled and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.

Stilwell said the ap­pa­ra­tus she set up in her cab­i­net of­fice at the leg­is­la­ture to work out is gone.

“The best thing about the last few months is I’m train­ing when I want, when I can and how much I can,’’ she said. “I’m not feel­ing guilty if I didn’t get the work­out in.’’

She be­came a quad­ri­plegic at 17 when she fell dur­ing a pig­gy­back ac­ci­dent. Drop­ping sports was never an op­tion for the life­long ath­lete.

Her medal haul started in 1998 when Stilwell was a mem­ber of the world cham­pion Cana­dian women’s wheel­chair bas­ket­ball team, which won gold at the 2000 Syd­ney Games. But health prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with her spinal cord in­jury forced Stilwell to leave wheel­chair bas­ket­ball.

CP PHOTO

Michelle Stilwell, right, of Canada shows off the Cana­dian flag af­ter win­ning gold in the women’s 100m T52 fi­nal dur­ing the Para Pan Amer­i­can Games in Toronto on Aug. 11, 2015. Michelle Stilwell, one of the world’s most dec­o­rated Par­a­lympic ath­letes and the first Cana­dian Par­a­lympian to win gold in two dif­fer­ent sports, has an­nounced her re­tire­ment. The seven-time Par­a­lympic medal­list and world cham­pion wheel­chair ath­lete made her an­nounce­ment on Twit­ter.

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