It would be easy for Colette Bourgonje to sit back and reflect on one of the more amazing careers put together by a Canadian athlete.
The wheelchair racer and cross country sit skier competed at 10 Paralympic Games. She won 10 medals at those Games; she was the first Canadian woman to compete at a summer and winter Paralympics; the first Canadian to win a Paralympic medal on home soil; she has a school named after her in Saskatoon; and in 2019 alone she was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and now the Canadian Paralympic Hall of Fame.
But all Bourgonje wants to talk about these days is her blossoming coaching career in Para nordic skiing.
‘’The coaching is a focus right now,’’ said the 57-year-old schoolteacher from Porcupine Plain, Sask. ‘’There is a lot you can give back, and a lot of knowledge you gain over the years. I want to share that knowledge and use the knowledge I’ve learned from my courses.
‘’I want people with a disability, especially the kids, to find the joy of sport and the joy of moving. We learn goal setting, we learn pacing, we learn a lot of different things. My goal is they become active and happy people in our society.
‘’Passing on the magic of sport has really been an honour.’’
As an athlete, Bourgonje claimed four bronze medals in wheelchair racing, and six medals in sit-skiing – three silver and three bronze.
‘’The medals in 2010 are my career highlight,’’ she said. “To see the Paralympics evolve has been interesting. We had great support for the athletes leading up to 2010. It’s encouraging to see that support in all the areas you can improve as an athlete, like nutrition, physiology, mental health, there are just so many areas you can look at being the best you can be.
‘’Having that support will continue to help athletes in the future.’’
She competed at both the summer and winter Paralympics from 1992 to 2000 before focusing solely on the Winter Games until Sochi 2014, after which she ended a 22-year-run as a member of Team Canada.
‘’What I discovered was, I love winter,’’ she said. “In the sit-ski, you’re sitting up, you see everything, you’re sliding. That’s when I discovered the most freedom that I would ever have. You have no pavement, you have no cars, you’re in the forest, and it’s magnificent.’’
Not only does Bourgonje feel she’s set an example for success for people with a disability and for women in sport but also for anyone who may feel isolated where they reside.
‘’The power is to know there is something out there for you,’’ she said. ‘’Saskatchewan is a small place and I know it’s where people don’t think it can happen, but we have great examples. Great things can come isolated places.’’
When Bourgonje received the call about her Hall of Fame induction she was driving to Kamloops for a coaching conference.
‘’I had to pull to the side of the road, and take the call again,’’ she said. ‘’I was in a parking lot and I thought that was pretty awesome because I certainly believe in the Movement and the power of sport.
‘’It was an honour to receive the call.’’
Bourgonje will be officially inducted into the Canadian Paralympic Hall of Fame at a ceremony on November 15 in Vancouver.
For more information: https://paralympic.ca/canadian-paralympic-hall-fame-and-sport-awards