Paralympic champion Michelle Stilwell arrived back on Vancouver Island today gleaming with gold.
She had two new gold medals around her neck after winning both the 400-metre and 100m races at the Paralympic Games this month in Rio de Janeiro.
Stilwell said returning with double gold makes her feel pride and gratitude.
“To be able to have the opportunity to represent my country doing the sport that I love is incredible and I’m so grateful that I live where I live, that I have that opportunity,” she said.
Her two victories came seven days apart, with the 400m final on Sept. 10 and the 100m on Sept. 17, at a stadium with an “incredible” atmosphere.
As she readied for her first race in Rio, her mindset was exactly where it needed to be.
“I realized that I didn’t have anything to lose. I’ve already done it many times in other Games and I had nothing to prove,” she said. “I knew what I wanted, but I was going to be OK with whatever happened. I just needed to focus on the process and I knew the result would come.”
She won the 400m decisively, posting a Paralympic-record time of one minute, 5.43 seconds, more than two seconds clear of the runner-up.
It was the perfect start to the competition, and faced with a week until the 100m, Stilwell decided to stay on the move. She watched rugby and swimming events and went up the mountain to see the Christ the Redeemer statue. She didn’t want to stay in her room watching movies and reading and going “bonkers,” she said, because there was a sense of stress leading into the 100m knowing that race hadn’t gone the way she had wanted four years prior.
Winning the 100m in Rio, she said, was redemption.
“I knew I could do it in London; I made a mistake in London,” she said. “I needed to prove that I could do it and I am the fastest.”
It didn’t even take her the full 100m to prove it. By the 30m mark, her coach Peter Lawless said, ‘It’s over. She’s won,’ and he was right, as Stilwell only extended her lead the rest of the way to win in another Paralympic record time of 19.42 seconds.
“So that was pretty fantastic to have such a solid race and to end the games on such a solid stance,” Stilwell said.
The races are fun and it’s a feeling of elation to finish first, she said, but the best moments, her favourite moments, are ascending the podium.
“To be able to stand on the podium and sing O Canada and see our flag rise is, I think, truly what I work toward,” she said.
Now the local MLA and B.C. cabinet minister will need to give some thought as to what she’ll work toward next in her athletic pursuits. She wasn’t sure, after London, if she would go on to compete in Rio, but then the world championships rolled around, and the Para Pan-Ams, and one event led to the next.
“I find myself in that same situation right now. Our world championships are next summer and [my coach and I] think, well, I’m pushing pretty well,” Stilwell said. “For me, I just love sport and I love training for my sport … I love getting up every morning and exercising. That’s just part of who I am and it will always be part of who I am.
“Whether I have a goal for another Paralympic medal, that remains to be seen.”
Double gold medallist Michelle Stilwell arrived back in town this afternoon to cheers, tears, hugs, kisses and congratulations… pic.twitter.com/2rf9rLmiML
— Greg Sakaki (@BulletinSports) September 21, 2016