Chantal Petitclerc named Canada's chef de mission for Rio Paralympics
Montreal native raced to 21 Paralympic medals, including 14 gold
Leading Canada's Paralympic team in Rio will be a little like coming home for Chantal Petitclerc.
The wheelchair racing star was named Canada's chef de mission for the 2016 Paralympics on Monday, two months after she led the Canadian team at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
"This is as special [as Glasgow], but very different because this is my family, this is home. I know the athletes, I've competed with them," Petitclerc said. "It's completely different, it's giving back to my family kind of."
The 44-year-old from Montreal is one of Canada's most decorated athletes of all time, holding world records over three different wheelchair distances. She raced to 21 Paralympic medals, including 14 gold.
Her posting as chef of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games team was the first by a Paralympic athlete for a multi-sport Games. Her hiring, she said, spoke volumes about Canada's support for Paralympic sports.
"[Glasgow] was such a privilege and a great experience and adventure, so it will always have a very, very special place in my heart, my first experience as chef. And just the message that it sent, that a Paralympic athlete can represent any athlete in this country, I think that's pretty amazing," Petitclerc said.
The chef de mission is the team leader and spokesman for Canadian athletes at the Games.
Canadian Paralympic athletes applauded Petitclerc's appointment Monday, exactly two years out from opening of the Games in Rio.
"She's one if the greatest athletes in Canadian history. Knowledge, leadership, confidence, she will bring all those skills to our team," said Benoit Huot, who's won 19 Paralympic medals in swimming, including nine gold. "As a former athlete maybe she has a better understanding of what we live every day, especially on the day that counts. And the fact that she was still competing in 2008, only eight years [from Rio] before, she's still close to being an athlete."
David Eng, a member of Canada's wheelchair basketball team that won gold in 2012 in London, called Petitclerc "the total package."
"Compared to all the other chefs de mission, not to say we haven't had good ones before, but they weren't athletes. They didn't live the Paralympic life. They didn't get the medals that Chantal got," Eng said. "She's in a position where she can share her experiences and help us reach higher heights."
Elaine Allard, a member of Canada's women's wheelchair basketball team, liked the fact Petitclerc isn't only a former Paralympian but a woman.
"She will bring something extra: the view from the inside," Allard said.
Petitclerc said she feels better equipped to be the chef in Rio after her experience this summer in Scotland.
"Coming in from Glasgow with everything I've learned there as chef, I feel a little safer, stronger in what I need and what I want to do because I've got this experience behind me now," she said.
Petitclerc sees the role of chef, she said, as a spokesperson, a team builder, and a mentor and inspirational leader.
She said her favourite memories from Glasgow weren't necessarily all from medal events. She recalled being the only person in the stands wearing a Canada shirt at table tennis when Anqi Luo and Zhang Mo were playing a women's doubles preliminary-round match.
"I could tell that it meant something to them," Petitlcerc said. "I remember coming back to the coaches lounge and one coach was having a glass of wine, and I said 'Oh your guys did good today,' and he was really happy to know that I was there and I saw the event. So I think that's really the kind of impact I want to have.
"That's what really drives me," she added. "I think my favourite part of the job and what's most important to me is really to connect with the athletes and the coaches."
Former Paralympic athlete Patrick Jarvis was Canada's chef de mission for the 1988 Nagano Winter Paralympics in Nagano, Japan.