Heading into her final Paralympic Games in 2008, Chantal Petitclerc’s goal was clear: win five gold medals.
Having accomplished the same four years earlier in Athens, the wheelchair racer knew it was possible. But she admits even as she tried to keep a low profile, it was a “little hard not to have the attention” as she faced the expectations of being the favourite trying to achieve a formidable objective.
Well, not only did she come home with a quintet of gold medals around her neck, she was also named Canada’s best athlete of the year for the remarkable feat.
“When I remember 2008 it really makes me smile, and it makes me proud because it was such a big goal and dream of mine to go there and win five gold medals,” said Petitclerc, who was 38 years old at the time. “When you’re in it, you just have this plan and you execute it and you work so hard, but you’re in the middle of it. But years after you look back at it and you think, wow I was so determined and focused, and it was at the same time the hardest thing I’ve ever done but the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Paralympic champion in each of the women’s T54 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1500m distances, Petitclerc remembers each race as having its own unique challenges but especially looks back fondly on the 800m.
“The one race I really remember well was the 800 metres because my plan was to go up in front and to stay in front for the whole race, which really had not been done very often. It was taking a chance, but at the same time I wanted to break a world record, which I did, and I stayed in front, I was dominating the whole race. It remains to this day one of the races I am most proud of.”
At the end of the year, Petitclerc was named the 2008 Lou Marsh Award recipient, only the second Paralympian in history (after Rick Hansen in 1982) to be named Canada’s best annual athlete. She also received The Canadian Press Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada’s top female athlete of the year.
“Winning the Lou Marsh Award was the most special moment when I came back from Beijing,” said Petitclerc. “As an athlete I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to win many awards and it’s always special, but the Lou Marsh, it includes professional sport, amateur sport, Olympic, Paralympic, men, women, and the award is chosen by sports journalists. They are the people who know exactly who we are, what we do, and they love sport.”
“It was just so special and really meant a lot to me of course as an individual, but also for my sport, I was proud for my sport because it showed how far we had come as a movement and how much recognition the sport community had for the Paralympic Movement and Paralympic athletes.”
She ended her Paralympic career as one of Canada’s most decorated athletes, with a total of 21 medals (14 gold, five silver, and two bronze) captured across five Games (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008).
When Petitclerc retired she was arguably the most prominent Paralympic athlete in Canada. She is happy to see that more and more Paralympians today are receiving recognition.
“What I see today and at the last few Games, finally there is room not only for the one Paralympic hero of the year, but for many Paralympians in many sports, and the public is getting to know a lot more Paralympians. To me this really is proof that this movement has come so far in terms of recognition. I see many Paralympians having sponsorship, I seem them on TV, in ads.
“I also see that athletes are getting this pride that this is who I am, I am a Paralympian, I am a high-performance athlete, with a story.”
She has remained a significant figure within the Paralympic Movement. She was chef de mission at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, and is a regular promoter of Para sport in Canada. She says she is thankful for the support of those who make it all possible.
“Athletes, Paralympians in particular, are the best Canadian ambassadors. When we choose to sponsor or support our Canadian team, we make sure they have everything they need to get to their dreams. Everybody has their part to play, the athletes are training, we have the coaches, mission staff, medical staff. To make sure this whole team can work together and focus on those big goals and dreams that will inspire all Canadians, we need that support, we need sponsors, we need the team behind the team.”
This year, the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Pfizer Canada are celebrating 25 years of supporting and promoting the Paralympic Movement together. Throughout 2021, we will look back on special sporting moments and milestones from each year of the partnership.
Click here to read each moment so far.