British Columbia

Q&A: B.C.'s Michelle Stilwell wins 2 gold medal in 4th Games

On the final day of the Games, B.C. MLA and cabinet minister Michelle Stilwell spoke with CBC News about her two medals in Rio and how she balances her life as a politician and high-performance athlete.

B.C. MLA and cabinet minister discusses Paralympic success and life balance

Parksville's Michelle Stilwell speaks with media after winning the T52 100m at the Rio Paralympics on Sept. 17, 2016 in a games record of 19.42 seconds. (CBC)

At the close of the Rio Paralympic Games, B.C.'s Michelle Stilwell was all smiles. The 42-year-old from Parksville had just won two gold medals while competing in her fourth Games.

On Sunday, Stllwell spoke with CBC News about her experiences in Rio and how she manages to be a high-performance athlete as well as B.C.'s Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation.

She won a gold medal in the 400 metre and also in 100 metre in a Paralympic record.

CBC: In that nanosecond of crossing the finish line, how did you feel?

Stilwell: Elated and somewhat, you know, surprised I guess, in a way.

I always have been told by my coaches to focus on the process and the rest will come, and that's certainly what I've been doing in ensuring that the training has been put in and that I've done everything I can to mentally prepare for the moment because, obviously, 100 metres is a fast race and it goes by really quickly and you need to be mentally prepared for the moment that the gun goes off.

What is it that makes you such a fierce competitor?

I think that it's engrained in me, for sure. My DNA, my genetics have put something there that I just have a passion for challenging myself and always trying to strive for something better to see if I can go faster, can I do something and improve in some way is just something that I always try to work for.

Outside of sport, you're a minister in British Columbia. How do you find time, how do you keep your life compartmentalized and do all of those roles at the same time? 
Michelle Stilwell celebrates her 100m win at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. (CBC)

Well, certainly, it takes a great deal of planning and organization. It certainly takes having an incredible team of support around me — whether that's my coach, my family, my friends, my staff, my volunteers, people who support me every which way along the journey.

But at the same time, being a provincial member of the legislature is a big job and on average we work 12 hours a day, and some days are longer than other days ... but like everyone else here in the Paralympic village, we have other jobs and we certainly need to ensure that we have jobs as well.

So we have teachers and air traffic controllers and all sorts of people who find a way to follow their passion and train hard to really strive for excellence here at the Games.

You have been quoted as saying you approach every race like it's your last and that you give it your all. So is this your last? Will we see you again and perhaps see you racing in Tokyo in four years? 

That's something that takes time to evaluate and I want to take the time today to enjoy these moments. Today is the closing ceremonies. 

I don't make four-year plans anymore — I make year-by-year plans. And so the next competition for us in athletics is our world championships next year in London, so that's the next decision I'll make. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.