By Ciarán Breen
Canadian Paralympic Media Consortium
Sept. 17, 2016 – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – When three-time Canadian Paralympian and 12-time medallist Chelsey Gotell stepped off the pool deck for the last time at the 2008 Games in Beijing, she knew she wanted to stay involved in the movement she’d grown to love. On Saturday in Rio, Gotell was announced as having been elected to the International Paralympic Committee Athlete Council, the collective voice of Paralympic athletes.
The position marks another step in Gotell’s impact as an athlete leader. She is also vice-chair of the athlete council for the Canadian Paralympic Committee.
“I’m really passionate about the athlete movement having a voice and being a voice,” said the 30-year-old at a press conference at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio. “Making sure that athletes’ voices are heard at the highest level of sport and that their opinions are valued and incorporated into the policy and planning moving forward.”
The six council members include four newly elected athletes in Gotell, cyclists Dame Sarah Storey of Great Britain and Monica Bascio of the USA and wheelchair racer Kurt Fearnley of Australia. Sitting volleyball player Elvira Stinissen and archer Gizem Girismen are the two re-elected athletes who complete the six.
"I love that there's so many strong women, can't get enough of those in my opinion." said Bascio, double silver medalist in London four years ago.
Gotell will find a familiar face on the Council, sitting Chair Todd Nicholson, whom Gotell describes as a mentor. The Ottawa native won three medals in sledge hockey across five winter Games between 1994 and 2010 and will finish his term next year.
“We had 22 candidates running for six positions,” said Nicholson. “That shows how our athletes are wanting to become more active and participate in the Paralympic movement.”
Turnout among athletes in Rio, who cast ballots between Sept. 5 to 16, was 54% (2,374 total votes), an 8% increase in participation from the last summer Games election at London 2012.
A long-time advocate for sport and the Paralympic movement, Gotell is working in Rio as the Canadian Paralympic Team’s athlete services officer, liaising with athletes and ensuring a smooth experience at the Games. The visually impaired swimmer, who campaigned with the slogan, “10 % sight, 100% vision,” is keen to rebuild trust in the classification system during her term on the athlete council.
“It’s not an easy issue and it’s not something we can tackle overnight,” said Gotell. “Ensuring athletes feel safer within the system and feeling like it’s a more fair system for them to be competing in.”
Gotell previously worked on a classification code and policies and best practices within Canada. She is also passionate about improving resources for para-athletes transitioning from sport.
“It’s never easy for any athlete,” said Gotell who will serve an initial four-year term. “Try adding a disabled athlete on top of that. It’s very close to my heart and I’m very excited about where we have to go over the next few years.”