By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
Determination and a relentless work ethic helped Michelle Stilwell become one of the greatest Paralympians in Manitoban and Canadian history.
At the age of 17, she suffered an unfortunate neck injury that would have ended the athletic careers of most athletes, but Stilwell persevered and continued to chase her goals in wheelchair sports.
While training and competing in the world championships, she obtained a science degree from the University of Calgary in 1999. She then started her Paralympic career in 2000, representing Team Canada in wheelchair basketball, where she won gold, making her the first Canadian quadriplegic to do so.
Setting Records, Collecting Medals
Following those games, complications with her injury forced her out of the sport on a national level. But again, this didn’t stop her.
Stilwell took up wheelchair racing, where she qualified for the 2008 Paralympic Games and carved out an outstanding resumé that started with two gold medals in the women’s T52 200m and 100m events. These awards made her the first and only Canadian female to have Paralympic gold medals in two separate sports.
At the 2012 games in London, she not only defended her Paralympic gold medal in the 200m, but finished with a time of 33.80 seconds, more than two seconds faster than her previous best. Additionally, she claimed the silver medal in the 100m race four days later.
While there were no Paralympic Games in 2013, Stilwell still found a way to impress as she broke the world record in the women’s T52 class 800m race at the IPC Athletics World Championships and also claimed gold in the 100m and 200m events.
Her other World Championship accolades include three golds and a silver in 2011 and a gold and silver medal in 2006.
In her final Paralympics in 2016, she earned a gold medal and set the record in the 400m race with a time of one minute and 5.42 seconds. Throughout her illustrious career, she also racked up multiple medals at world championships before announcing her retirement.
Making Her Mark in Sport and Beyond
Her competitive nature continued after her athletic career as she began a political career in British Columbia and was elected a member of the BC Legislature for the Parksville-Qualicum riding in 2013 and was re-elected in 2017.
Stilwell was inducted into the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame in 2017 and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2019. She is also an ambassador for ActNow and the Rick Hansen Foundation.
This blog was made possible by support from the Community Museum Support Project.