She’s gone from Paralympics to politics, but now a Vancouver Island MLA and cabinet minister is getting ready to head to Rio.
Michelle Stilwell already has four Paralympic gold medals, but despite her demanding day job, she’s kept her an intense training regime and last week, she got the word that she’s been named to Team Canada for a fourth time.
“It’s a work life balance that’s certainly challenging,” she said during a break in a training session in Nanaimo Sunday.
Long hours on the track are nothing new for Stilwell, but finding the time in her day for them is harder than it was at the start of her Paralympic career 16 years ago.
Stilwell first won gold as a member of Canada’s women’s wheelchair basketball team at the 2000 Sydney games.
She then took up track, winning two gold in Beijing in 2008, and gold and silver four years later in London.
That was before she went from paralympian to politician, but even after being elected in 2013 as MLA for Parksville-Qualicum she kept competing, setting a world record in the T-52 800 metre event at the world championships in France that summer.
Then in case her schedule wasn’t full enough, Stilwell was made minister for social development in 2015.
“Since becoming minister its certainly become challenging to fit the training in, but its very early in the morning, mostly before most people are up,” she said. “And if I’m fortunate enough in my schedule to allow for a second session in the evening i try to fit that in as well.”
She fit in enough training in her first year in cabinet, to manage a gold medal at Toronto’s 2015 Parapan Am games.
And on Thursday, she was named to Team Canada to compete in the 100- and 400-metre T-52 races in Rio.
“Certainly my goal is to top the podium, to repeat as Paralympic champion in the 100 metres and to hopefully do the same in the 400 metres,” she said.
When Stilwell flies out September 2nd, it will be the first time husband Mark won’t be able to be track side for a Paralympic race. He’ll be watching at home with their son Kai.
“[We] can’t wait, its going to be exciting and let’s bring home some medals,” he said.
Nanaimo photographer Ron Kirk recently started wheelchair racing himself, competing in the TC10K for the first time this year, and says Stilwell’s focus is inspiring.
“She’s a go-getter, she definitely has a lot of fight in her and she is out there to win,” he said.
Stilwell says, with three weeks to the games, her focus is more on mental than physical preparation.
“The physical is there, I’ve done the training, I’ve reached the world record and I have to maintain that, and I’m always trying to achieve better at it, but it’s always the mental game because once you’ve won, you have that target on your back and you have the pressure to try to repeat it, so it’s tough.”
Sixteen years after her first trip to the Paralympics, with five medals, and three world records in her name, Rio represents one more, and possibly one last chance, for Stilwell to put provincial politics aside and represent Canada as she aims to be the fastest in the world.
“So I’m looking forward to seeing what I can put out on the track on the day, and put all this training, 1460 days between paralympic games, and be able to see what I can do for Canada,” she said.