Paralympic champion Michelle Stilwell came home today with gold and silver medals, and notions, maybe, of races still to come.
Stilwell, the 38-year-old wheelchair sprinter from Nanoose Bay, was met by family, friends, fans and media on Monday at the Nanaimo airport after she won a gold medal in the 200 metres and a silver in the 100m at the Paralympic Games in London this month.
“It’s been incredible, there’s so many Canadians supporting the Paralympic team,” she said. “It’s just been fabulous to have everyone supporting us as we all have tried to reach our goals.”
Stilwell reached many of her goals this month, at her third Games, as she brought her career Paralympic medal count to four golds and one silver.
“I don’t think you can be disappointed with anything,” she said. “I went out there and I gave it everything I could … I’m so ecstatic to come home with anything.”
On Sept. 1, she defended her title at the 200-metre distance during an “incredible day” at Olympic Stadium.
“Leading into it, I just felt really energized,” she said. “I was so excited just to be able to have that moment, to get out on the track, enter the stadium, have 80,000 people screaming. It was pretty overwhelming.”
She had an OK start, but navigated the turn in prime position, then fed off the energy of the crowd, and the moment, to propel her the rest of the way. Close to the finish line she allowed herself one tiny glance toward the competition – not part of her race plan, she admitted – then she pushed past the finish line in a Paralympic-record time of 33.80 seconds.
Wednesday’s 100m final unfolded differently. The race started with a quick gun, Stilwell said, and she slipped.
“I didn’t push hard enough on my left side, and then I spent pretty much the rest of the race trying to recover.”
Playing catch-up sure provided motivation, as she ended off the race with the fastest 50 metres of her life.
“I just wanted to win so bad,” she said.
Her time of 19.80s was 11 hundredths of a second behind gold medallist Marieke Vervoort, of Belgium. Stilwell might have been second best, but over those last 50 metres, she also found new capablities, within.
It’s capabilities, not disabilities, after all, that the Paralympic Games are about. And Stilwell would love a chance to show that again, in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“It’s a family decision, and we’ll see…” she said. “I know I still have more in me and I love competing. I’m a true competitor and so I would love the opportunity to race another day.”