Where are they now: 12-time Paralympic medallist Chelsey Gotell

Canadian Paralympic Committee

July 07, 2022

Retired Para swimmer now a leading voice in Paralympic Movement


Pictured: Chelsey Gotell (centre), Valerie Grand’Maison (left), and Kirby Cote (right) after sweeping the 200IM podium at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games

A three-time Paralympian, Chelsey Gotell was a standout on Canada’s very successful Para swimming teams at the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Games.

The youngest member of the Canadian team in Sydney, at age 14, she would ultimately accumulate 12 podium performances– three gold, two silver, and seven bronze – in her storied career.

Gotell, originally from Antigonish, N.S. but now living in Toronto, hasn’t strayed from sport since hanging up her swim cap. One of the most significant athlete leaders over the past several years, Gotell worked on the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games organizing committee, has been on the CPC Board of Directors, was chair of the International Paralympic Committee Athletes’ Council from 2017-2021 and recently was elected to the IPC Governing Board.

Below Gotell, now 36, looks back on her favourite memories and details what she’s working on now.

What did it mean to you to represent Canada at the Paralympic Games? 

When I was an athlete, I didn’t truly comprehend the impact of it and the importance of it, I was so focused on sport and performance, and I didn’t see the bigger picture of impact. But now, being retired for 10 plus years, the weight of being a Paralympian, having PLY behind my name and representing the movement, being one of those stewards, and every Paralympian having that Paralympic flame within them brings me so much pride in knowing the impact.

It’s a stereotypical comment but it holds so true to me that really, seeing the impact that our movement can have on people and changing the lives of people with disabilities and changing the perception about people with disabilities, the impact is exponential of what we can really do. That in itself brings me so much pride and so much joy to stand behind it, to carry that flame inside of me, and proudly call myself a Paralympian.

What are some of your favourite memories from competing for Canada?  

First would be walking into my first Opening Ceremony at the Sydney 2000 Games. I didn’t really know what I was getting into going to the Paralympics, I just knew I was going to Australia. To walk into the stadium with 110,000 people screaming, it was such an eye-opening experience for me. And going onto my first pool deck with 18,000 screaming Australians – it opened my eyes to the world of Paralympic sport which has shaped everything over the last 23 years for me.

The other really big one for me – as nice as it is to win medals and break world records and be part of Canadian sweeps of the podium, which are all incredible things I am so proud of – but I think really getting it to do it with my brother beside me. Not many people get to have their sibling on a national team with them, to watch them grow and share that experience with them, and I got to do it with my younger brother Devin for the last five, six years of my career. It was pretty special. And at the Beijing Games, where the pressure on me was so high to perform, on all the S13 girls to sweep the podium as much as we could, and it was an internal competition on who was going to win many times, he was my confidant. He was the one I leaned on, who I let out my pressures to, and talked about race plans with, so just having him there for that experience was pretty incredible, as was seeing him grow through the Paralympic Movement. That’s a pretty rare thing that not many people get to carry with them, and it’s something he and I get to carry the rest of our lives that will bond us more than people will understand.

What is your proudest sporting achievement?  

It would definitely be Beijing 2008 where I won the 200IM and broke the world record for the S13 girls, and I lead the sweep of a Canadian podium in that event [second was Kirby Cote, third was Valerie Grand’Masion]. I wasn’t expected to win the event, so to come out and win gold and break the world record, which was my teammate Kirby’s world record that stood for a long time, was a pretty incredible experience. And to stand on the podium with my two Canadian teammates and share that victory was such an honour and the accumulation of so much hard work and so many tears and long hours in the pool. It was really special.

What are you up to now? 

Well, I’m a mom of two. I am a member at large of the IPC Governing Board until 2025, so I am leading some of their work there, the strategic work for the vision of the future of the movement. I’m also an osteopathic manual practitioner and I own my own practice in Etobicoke, Ontario and I’m also doing sport leadership work here in Canada to help bridge Paralympic sport and the future of our system here in Canada.

What message would you share with current athletes on the road to the Paralympic Games?  

My biggest message would be to really try to be a fulsome person, not just an athlete, and I don’t use the word ‘just’ lightly there. It’s one thing to focus on performance and to be a really great athlete, but I think the best athletes are the ones that are also pursuing other things outside of sport, they are taking care of their physical and mental health, they are pursuing maybe volunteering or part-time work to gain experience, or they are going to school to gain skills beyond sport because sport won’t last forever. Setting yourself up for success outside of sport and leaning on people who can help you do that – whether that’s mentorship, which I firmly believe it’s so important to have mentors, your friends and family, and surrounding yourself with people who help you pursue those goals.

That’s my biggest advice, because the biggest thing I’ve seen throughout my last 10 years in sport administration is that so many athletes, whether they leave sport on their own or they’re pushed out of sport due to injury or other reasons, many times they are left not being able to identify who they are outside of their sport. It’s a really big struggle when you transition. So I would love to see more of our athletes stepping into exploring all of that with the support of their national federations, so they can be really great people as they transition out of sport as well, while also being incredible athletes that are going to go on to win medals for Canada.

Fast Facts 

Current favourite TV show: This is Us
Favourite summer activity: Lounging on the beach
Celebrity you’d like to meet: Barack and Michelle Obama and Ryan Reynolds  
Favourite hobby: I love cooking

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