Ten-time Paralympian Colette Bourgonje says proper equipment essential for beginners

A 10-time Paralympian, Canadian star Colette Bourgonje has a treasure trove of memories from her career in high performance sport.

Bourgonje, a Metis from Porcupine Plain in Northeast Saskatchewan, competed at three summer Games in wheelchair racing (Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, and Sydney 2000) along with seven Paralympic Winter Games in Para nordic skiing (Albertville 1992, Lillehammer 1994, Nagano 1998, Salt Lake City 2002, Turin 2006, Vancouver 2010, and Sochi 2014).

In those 10 Games, she earned 10 medals: two bronze each in Barcelona and Atlanta, two silver in Nagano, two bronze in Turin, and two silver in Vancouver. In 2010, she was the first Canadian to win a Paralympic Games medal on home soil.

Of course, this story has a beginning and Bourgonje recollects the many challenges to get started in Para sport. She had been an able-bodied athlete prior to her car accident in 1980.

Once she heard about sport opportunities for people with a disability, she was eager to get involved. But just like a carpenter needs the proper tools to build shelves for a house, Bourgonje said an initial challenge was finding the right equipment for her new sports.

Suitable equipment is key to any athlete performing well in their sport. For able-bodied individuals, there are far less customizations required than for a Para athlete. In instances where equipment does need to be altered to properly fit an athlete in Para sport, it can be a challenge to find knowledgeable people to do so.

Colette on the podium

“Help with funding a racing chair would have been great,” Bourgonje recalled. “Ski equipment was made in Saskatchewan, however to get on the podium I bought a sit ski made in Russia.”

“Funding definitely helps with everything that an athlete requires to be the best they can be. From accommodation, travel, equipment, coaching, technology like heart rate monitors, the list is long.”

Bourgonje says it’s crucial for someone beginning in Para sport that the first experience is positive. And that starts with proper equipment. A donation to the Paralympic Foundation of Canada can ease that initial burden and maybe even help create a future Paralympian.

“Equipment makes all the difference in having a positive experience in Para sport,” she said. “It is also very expensive and difficult to fine tune in regard to moving efficiently.”

“Helping the next generation of champions takes time and money. Support will help those with a disability discover and play sports and also help ensure future podium performances at major Games.”