World record-setter politician aims for Paralympic gold
B.C. Minister of Social Development Michelle Stilwell a medal contender at her 4th Paralympics
It's in Michelle Stilwell's nature to go fast. World-record fast.
The B.C. Minister of Social Development flies through the hallways of British Columbia's legislature in her wheelchair leaving staff and journalists in her wake. But Stilwell's speed shouldn't come as any surprise to those that know her.
The three time wheelchair racing gold medalist is one of Canada's most celebrated Paralympians.
"In the legislature I have been known to take out a few people coming around the corner," Stilwell told CBC News during a recent training session on the track at the University of Victoria.
The next thing on that to do list for the 'Minister of Speed', as one headline writer put it, is another gold medal.
What many have a hard time getting their head around is what continues to motivate the 42 year-old who has achieved so much both on and off the track.
'I always had the clock'
"I think it's just always striving to push myself to see if I can do better. It's something that has been inside of me since I was a little girl," said Stilwell.
As a kid, Stilwell didn't dream of the Paralympics. At age 17, she broke her back after falling down a flight of stairs while piggybacking on a friend, just three weeks before her grade 12 graduation.
Her first Paralympic sport was wheelchair basketball, where she won a gold medal as part of the Canadian team at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics.
Then she transitioned to the track, where she holds three world records in the 100, 200 and 800 metres in the T52 class.
As the gold medals started piling up at competitions around the world, politics came calling and an opportunity to run for the B.C. Liberals on Vancouver Island.
"The job is 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, there is no turning it off. I can't remember the last time I had a true vacation. When I go away the email and the phones come with me."
Inspiration for B.C. Premier
To manage the rigorous demands of serving constituents but also running the social development ministry has meant putting in place some time saving measures.
That has included moving rollers, a stationary training device for wheelchair athletes, to her legislative office.
"It has allowed me to cutout some of the time it takes to train, there is no travel time to get to a track," she said.
"I know my getting up everyday and training is enabling me to do my job better. It's a stress reliever, the job I have is pretty stressful."
The work ethic has clearly caught the eye of her boss.
"The woman is just unbelievable," said B.C. Premier Christy Clark.
Stilwell herself says her inspiration comes from her role as mother and wife.
The Paralympian acknowledges that her husband Mark covers the household duties while she travels for both work and sport carrying the brunt of the load with their 15 year old son son Kai.
The couple are often spotted on date night at political fundraisers rather than out for dinner or at the movies.
'She's the best that has ever lived'
At the age of 42 and with so many other things on her plate the thought would be that Stilwell would start regressing. But her long time coach Peter Lawless says she continues to put up good times and cement her legacy.
Stilwell even says with a chuckle she has Tokyo, Japan, the host of the 2020 Paralympics on her mind as well.
With files from Chris Brown and Chris Corday