Q&A Michelle Stilwell wins gold at Parapan Am Games

"There's a way to fit it all in if you're willing to make it happen," says Michelle Stilwell.

Stilwell is B.C.'s MLA for Parksville-Qualiclum and Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation

Michelle Stillwell competed in both the T52 100m and the T53 800m races this past week in the Para Panam Games. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

B.C.'s Minister of Social Development Michelle Stilwell just brought home a gold medal from the Parapan Am Games in Toronto.

She sat down with The Early Edition host Rick Cluff to talk about her newest achievement.

What's it like to win a gold medal for your country?

What an incredible experience to be here at home, competing on home soil in front of Canadian fans and having that opportunity to hear Canada's anthem and to see our flag rise.

It was a very emotional moment for me on the podium. I certainly realized how grateful I am to live in this amazing country.

People who don't follow wheel-chair racing might be unfamiliar with some of the specifics. You won the 100-metre T52 race, what does that mean?

T52 is a category for quadriplegics, but a higher functioning level of quadriplegics. In my race we had two individuals that were T52 and two that were T51. 

T51 have less ability with their biceps and triceps and less trunk control than T52s. When I'm racing, I don't have full triceps, I don't have hand function. I have weak wrist flexers, and that affects my ability to push my chair.

One of your many gold medals was won with the women's basketball team in 2000 in Sydney. That makes you the only Canadian female Paralympic athlete with gold medals in different summer events. How did you make the switch from basketball to racing?

It was all about being in the right place at the right time where I met my coach Peter Lawless who is still coaching me today. We've been in a partnership for over 10 years. It was at a coaching clinic where I was coaching basketball and he was there doing racing, and he approached me about coming to track and field.

And the rest is sort of history.

Michelle Stilwell lead from start to finish, posting a time of 19.58 to win gold in the women's 100m T52 final. 2:38

Apart from being an elite athlete, you are a cabinet minister here in B.C. How do you balance the regimented training schedule you have to go through while also keeping track of an important portfolio?

Amazing time management skills and great multi-tasking, I have to say. Early mornings and late nights. I don't sleep a lot. Even while I've been here, driving to the track, it's a 45-minute drive, and I was on my iPad reading decision notes.

There's a way to fit it all in if you're willing to make it happen. If you want both to work, you put the work in and the effort. I can certainly say that I'm committed to both of those jobs I do.

Being a provincial cabinet minister is enough to keep anyone very busy. How do you stay motivated to, not only stay in shape, but to be able to compete at a top level?

It's that desire to do things well, to strive for excellence. Whatever it is I'm doing I always want to ensure that I'm giving my very best. I have great family support and friend support and amazing staff that surround me at the legislature and the ministry.

Will we see you compete for Canada at the Paralympic games in Brazil?

That would be ideal, but that's still a year away and there is a lot that goes into that process. Of course I'd have to make my qualifying times and be able to meet the standards and be named to the team, but it's certainly something that I'm optimistic about.

This interview has been edited and condensed. To hear it in its entirety, listen to the audio labelled: Michelle Stilwell, politician and medal-winning athlete


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