By
Senator Chantal Petitclerc & Marissa Nasiatka

Our Interview with the Honorable Chantal Petitclerc

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Image of Chantal Petitclerc of Canada celebrates after winning the final of the women's 200 metre T54 classification event at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games in Beijing on September 14, 2008.

The Honorable Chantal Petitclerc is an internationally renowned athlete, an advocate for people with a difference, a spokesperson for Défi Sportif in Montréal, an ambassador for the international Right to Play organization and a Member of the Senate of Canada. At the age of thirteen, Chantal was paralyzed from the waist down when a barn door fell on her while she was playing with friends on a farm near her hometown. Convincing her to take up swimming in order to develop her strength and stamina, her high school physical education teacher, Gaston Jacques, would have a decisive impact on her life. For Senator Petitclerc , that was her first contact with sport and training. Four years later, she would discover wheelchair athletics, paving the way for a long and very successful career which would take her to the Barcelona Games in 1992, and ultimately, to the Beijing Games in 2008.

Chantal returned from the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games with 5 gold medals, for a total of 21 Paralympic medals, including 4 gold medals, making her the most celebrated female track athlete in history, the most medaled Canadian Paralympic athlete, as well as the only Canadian athlete to have won gold medals at the Olympics, the Paralympics and the Commonwealth Games. 

Her career in numbers:

  • Five Paralympic Games (Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, Athens, Beijing)
  • 21 Paralympic medals (including 14 gold medals)
  • 2 world records (200m, 400m)
  • 3 Paralympic records (200m, 400m, and 1500m)
  • 1 Olympic gold medal in the 800m (demonstration sport)
  • 24 world records broken in her career

Chantal has received several recognitions for her sporting career, including being appointed Companion of the Order of Canada, being named Personality of the Year by La Presse newspaper (2004) and receiving the Laureus international award (2005).

Other recognition:

  • Chevalier de l’Ordre du Québec (2005)
  • Companion of the Order of Canada
  • Lou Marsh Trophy as Canadian athlete of the year
  • Star on Canada's Walk of Fame
  • International Paralympic Committee Female athlete of the year
  • La Presse Sports personality of the year
  • Honorary Doctorate, University of Ottawa, University of Montréal, and University of Edmonton
  • 2010 United States Sports Academy’s (USSA) Juan Antonio Samaranch IOC Disabled Athlete Award.
  • Listed 7 times as one of the Most Influential Women in Sport ( CAAWS)

While the Beijing Games would be the last time she would be participating in track competitions, Chantal is still committed to giving back to the sport. In 2012, she was recruited as coach and mentor of the United Kingdom's track and field team at the London Paralympic Games. After her return to Canada, Chantal was named Chef de Mission for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. This was the first time in history that a Paralympic athlete led a team of combined Olympic and Paralympic athletes. 

Chantal Petitclerc is a highly sought-after speaker, and shares her story with dozens of groups each year, both throughout Canada and abroad. She participates in projects by various Paralympic athletics and sports organizations. In April 2016, Chantal Petitclerc became a Member of the Senate of Canada for Quebec. As a Senator, her goal is to improve the health for all Canadians, especially our youth, as well as the rights of persons with disabilities. 

Interviewed by our Different & Able President and Founder, Alexandra Nicklas, Senator Petitclerc shares her story of how she overcame adversity and many obstacles to become a proven leader in the sports world. Petitclerc also discusses, as a Member of the Senate of Canada, that she is a voice for inclusion for people with a difference, including Indigenous people with disabilities, as they often face barriers to employment, discrimination and accessibility issues. With grace and tenacity in all that she accomplishes, Senator Petitclerc states, “Excellence doesn’t happen accidently. It’s true; we can’t choose what happens to us in life. However, as an individual or a country, we can always choose the attitude we will have to face life’s challenges.” 

 

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