The Next Chapter·Proust Questionnaire

'My mom changed the trajectory of my life': Perdita Felicien's biggest hero is her own mother

The Olympian, broadcaster and author takes The Next Chapter's version of the Proust Questionnaire.
Retired Canadian hurdling champion Perdita Felicien and her mother Cathy Felicien Browne. (Penguin Random House)

Perdita Felicien won many thrilling races as a gold medal hurdler — and then there was the heartbreaking fall at the 2004 Olympics that cost her a much anticipated win.

She called her mother after that moment, because it was her mother's faith and love that helped push Felicien to her many accomplishments. She now works as a sports broadcaster and is part of CBC's team covering the Olympics. She was also a past Canada Reads panellist, defending Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald in 2008. 

She writes about that resilience and grit in My Mother's Daughter, a debut memoir of struggle and triumph. 

Felicien spoke to The Next Chapter and took its version of the Proust questionnaire. 

An orange book cover with red and green flowers and a photo of a woman and her daughter.

What do you value most in your friends? 

As a young woman, I valued just having friends, and the number of friends. But I turned 40 in August last year. That shifted how I feel about my friends and what I need from them.

What I do have is a very small circle of girlfriends. We have this thing I coined that we all use: we have "guilt-free friendships." If you can't make it, it's OK. We know we are loved. If you drop the ball, we know it was not on purpose. All good. We don't hold that against each other.

I value their patience. I value their love and their effort. We know that we love each other and we have each other's back. So I value having a guilt-free friendship with my girlfriends. 

What is your favourite occupation? 

I've had a lot of jobs. I have been a fast food worker at a fast food store. I'm now a speaker and author. I'm a mom — that's a job! I host a TV show.

I would say my favourite job is my newest title, which is that of an author. It's about seeing my words on the page, expressing myself and explaining to people and saying, "This is what I've come to say."

I love the expression that being an author gives me. Being an athlete is a form of expression, but this is completely different from that.

I love the expression that being an author gives me. Being an athlete is a form of expression, but this is completely different from that. 

Where would you like to live? 

Well, I'm from Pickering, Ont., which we all know is the centre of the universe. I've lived there for a really long time. I don't need a city or a place; I don't need to name it. Where I want to live is in a house that is full of joy — and baby laughter and giggles and hugs and walls scratched up with crayon and marker. That's where I'd want to live. And funnily enough, that's where I live right now. 

What is your favourite journey? 

My favourite journey is my favourite failure: falling in 2004 at the Olympics. People still stop me on the street and tell me they know where they were in that moment.

My favourite journey is getting back up after that fall. I learned more from falling and rising, than I would have learned from not finishing well, or winning gold altogether. 

I learned more from falling and rising, than I would have learned from not finishing well, or winning gold altogether.

Now, that doesn't mean I don't want the gold! I'm not saying that, but I definitely can look back and say that the journey today, 16, 17 years later, is a well of a strength that I draw from daily. 

Perdita Felicien lies under a hurdle after she crashed out in the women's 100m hurdles final, 24 August 2004, during the Olympic Games. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)

What is your greatest regret? 

What I try to do, instead of living with regret, and why I don't have any regrets today, is I go back to that moment and those instances. I mine the lessons out of them, and then I take that with me to my next journey. So I don't make that mistake or take that same step again if it didn't serve me.

For a long time, I would say, 'Everything happens for a reason.' And that gave me comfort. But it was false comfort.

I don't believe that anymore. I don't believe that everything happens for a reason. And if you do, I absolutely respect that you do. But from my life, what I actually believe is that people take the lessons from the really crappy and bad things that happened to them — and people decide to make something good out of the bad things that happened to them. So you decide what that good is. 

Perdita Felicien draws strength from the hurdles her mother faced

3 years ago
Duration 9:13
Featured VideoPerdita Felicien is one of Canada’s most decorated female track athletes, but her memoir focuses on the hurdles her mother faced and how that became her inspiration.

Who are your favourite heroes in real life? 

This is a no-brainer. It's my mother, Cathy. My mother didn't have an education. She dropped out when she was 12 to help her family in St. Lucia to make a life. 

My mom changed the trajectory of my life.

I don't have that experience. I had a full childhood and I have a lot of things my mother didn't have because she wanted us to have what she didn't have. 

My mom changed the trajectory of my life. She changed the trajectory of my daughter's life, who is only two years old. So, obviously, my biggest hero is my mom, Cathy. 

Perdita Felicien's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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