As an athlete, Chantal Petitclerc has many wins to her credit, but there was one that was truly history making. In July 2002, she won the gold medal in the 800m at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England; her time was 1' 52.92". It was the first wheelchair event to be fully integrated into the program of a major international non-disabled competition. In winning an "official" gold medal, she became the first disabled athlete in the history of sports to register a result for her country's team at such an event. From then on, standout performances just became par for Petitclerc's course.
In Athens at the 2004 Paralympics, she racked up an impressive five gold medals. She smashed the 800m record again at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, where she was also the flag bearer for the opening ceremonies. One of her most recent triumph, some twenty years into her national team career, was another five gold-medal haul at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic games. She threw in two new world records and one new Paralympic record for good measure, making her one of the world's most decorated track athletes, period.
"I knew I wanted to be the best wheelchair racer in history," she recounts. "I just didn't think Canadians would cheer so loudly for and be one of the best parts of the dream."
A member of the national team since 1988, Petitclerc competed in the Paralympic Games for the first time in Barcelona in 1992, returning with two bronze medals, the start of an impressive collection that now includes an Olympic medal and twenty-one Paralympic medals, fourteen of them gold. Petitclerc lost the use of both of her legs in an accident when she was thirteen, but discovered her direction in life when her high school phys-ed teacher convinced her to try swimming. It was her first contact with sports and training, and it set her on the path to what would become her love affair with wheelchair racing.
When she was eighteen, Pierre Pomerleau, a trainer at University Laval in Quebec City, introduced her to wheelchair sports. Using a homemade wheelchair, Petitclerc took part in her first race and, well, came in dead last. But nevertheless a long and fruitful career had begun. While she was developing her skills as a wheelchair athlete, Chantal was also pursuing her studies in social sciences at the CEGEP de Sainte-Foy. She then registered and studied history at the University of Alberta, in order to be able to train with Peter Eriksson. He remains her coach to this day!
Chantal Petitclerc is a highly sought after speaker, and shares her story with dozens of groups each year, both throughout Canada and abroad. She participates in projects by various Paralympic athletics and sports organizations, in addition to working as a spokesperson for Défi Sportif in Montréal, and as an ambassador for the international Right to Play organization. In 2010, Chantal was elected to the boards of the Canadian Paralympic Committee and of the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport.
Today, Chantal Petitclerc is the only Canadian to medal at the Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games, not to mention being the current world record holder for the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m. But such massive success and years in the international spotlight haven't made her immune to the thrill of receiving a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.
"My first emotion upon hearing I won a star was excitement," she recalls. "Then I wondered what I was going to wear! Then I got even more excited when I realized what great company I'm in. It's fun and glamorous, but most importantly, it tells the world that there is no such thing as too big a dream; that everything is possible."