Winner of 15 Paralympic gold medals in wheelchair racing but first, a humanist and one of Canada’s greatest athletes, Chantal Petitclerc (pronounced “petty-claire”) is one of the most talented paralyzed athletes to grace this planet. And Canada is making sure no one forgets.
Growing up in a small town in Quebec, Chantal Petitclerc lived a quiet life on her family farm. And when she was 13, her idyllic life came to a sudden halt when a heavy barn door fell on her, breaking her back. Since that day, Chantal has been living her life as a paraplegic and she’s been unstoppable.
Why she’s fearless
When Chantal was first injured, she was young and not quite sure of anything yet, partly because of her age and also just like all of us are after spinal cord injury. And after she went back to high school, one of her physical education teachers recommended she try wheelchair racing, and she got hooked right away. Even though she placed dead last in her first race (and experienced the race from a homemade racing chair), in that moment she discovered what she was born for.
And she began to race in competitions in Canada. After several regional and national championships under her belt, her skill was obvious, and she competed in her first Paralympics in 1992 in Barcelona. And it was here where she won her first Paralympic medals, two bronze medals – for the 200 m and the second for the 800 m.
Four years later at the Atlanta games, Chantal returned to Paralympics, this time tasting her first gold. She won three silver medals (the 400 m, the 800 m and the 1500 m) and she won her first two gold medals of her career, winning gold in the 100 m and the 200 m.
You can begin to see a pattern – Chantal is definitely a fierce competitor. Maybe she wasn’t born athletic, but her injury certainly made her so, which I think is inspiringly ironic. Chanel went on to compete in the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, winning two silver medals and two gold medals (in the 200 m and the 800 m). And she really catapulted into fame after she competed in the 2004 Athens Paralympics, where she won (count them) five gold medals. Chantal was the best at wheelchair racing for several years.
And the last games she competed in before retiring were the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. She won 5 more gold medals, and was awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy as the Canadian Athlete of the Year and Canada’s Female Athlete of the Year the same year for her stellar performance in Beijing.
In 2009 after officially retiring, one of the coolest rewards was also bestowed on Chantal – she got a star on Canada’s walk of fame. Watch her acceptance speech here
Also after retiring, Chantal became a motivational speaker, which is something she does to this day. She’s also coaching. When her old coach moved onto coaching the British Paralympic racing team after she retired, she was asked to help coach the team in an official capacity as one of their coaches during the London 2012 Paralympics. And she’s currently a personal coach for star British wheelchair racer, Shelly Woods. Here’s a pic of them together last month
But don’t think Chantal isn’t stretching her athletic wings since she’s no longer competing. She keeps pushing herself and is currently learning a new adapted sport – handcycling. You gotta love how Chantal constantly pushes herself. She’s unstoppable and so positive; a definite superstar in Canada, the spinal cord injury community and beyond.
Have you had the honor of meeting Chantal?
Watch the videos!