On December 15th, 1969, Chantal Petitclerc was born on Saint-Marc-des-Carrières in Quebec. It was at the age of 13 that Chantal was in an accident that caused her to lose the use of her legs. Through the encouragement of her high school phys ed teacher, Chantal decided to develop her endurance and strength through swimming. This has a big impact on her future.
Four years after Chantal started swimming, she found out about wheelchair athletics. This was the start of her long and successful career. She would eventually make it to the Barcelona Games in 1992 and all the games up to Beijing in 2008.
Chantal is now known as the winner of the most medals for a track athlete and the most medals won (in any given sport) by a Canadian athlete. On top of this she is the only Canadian athlete to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games, as well as the Commonwealth Games.
In 2012, a new door opened for Chantal’s sports career. The British Paralympic team at the Paralympic Games in London brought her on the become a coach and mentor. Another door opened in 2014 as she was appointed Chef de Mission for the Canadian team at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. In the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games Chantal will have the same role.
On top of her amazing sports career, Chantal Petitclerc is an author, writing the book “16 days in Beijing”, and highly sought-after speaker. She shares her story with groups across Canada and abroad. She is also a spokesperson for Défi sportif in Montreal and is an ambassador for Right to Play International.
Chantal Petitclerc went on to become a Senator at the Senate of Canada.
How long have you used a wheelchair?
37 years, ever since my accident at the age of 13.
What are your biggest challenges you must face as a wheelchair user?
The biggest challenges in Montreal and in Canada in general remain architectural barriers. And the winter weather. But that is out of our control. If we can reach a point where universal access becomes a reality, then things will improve for all, and at all levels.
How has being in a wheelchair changed the way you deal with your daily life?
I would say there are more options than limits, for sure, but it requires more planning and preparations. When it comes to traveling, which I love, I have realized that being spontaneous often results in frustrations due to lack of access. So I have made planning an important part of the traveling so that things are smoother and more enjoyable. But daily life is pretty much the same as everybody else as far as I know!
Did you pursue an education?
I did, as it is important for me. I went to University of Alberta to study history and it proved to be an amazing experience.
What do you do for a job or career?
I am a Senator at the Senate of Canada, for now 3 years. It is a privilege and a responsibility to be there and represent not only persons with a disability but all Canadians, trying to deal with legislation that will always have the concerns of the most vulnerable.
What are your hobbies?
I love good food, movies and hand cycling.
What places have your traveled?
As a former member of the Paralympic team, I have traveled all over the world, 3 to 4 months a year on the road for over 20 years. Now my work does not allow me to travel as much but I still enjoy it.
Have you had to deal with the any obstacles while traveling?
Not every country has the same standards of access and that is always the main issue, and this is why planning, research and preparation is so important when traveling in a wheelchair. I also find that not every country is as open minded to persons with a disability than Canada, and this of course is always troubling.
Who helped you the most to become who you are today?
Were there any books, podcasts, events, or people that helped you along your journey?
Many people helped me of course, but I would not say books or podcasts, but really regular people who, with their passion, expertise or good advice, made a difference in my life in many times. I believe that we always should look out for people who believe in us and stay away from those who only see the limits we have. We don’t need them and we have to be kind enough to ourselves to surround ourselves with the right individuals. That is the single best thing we can do when it comes to relationships.
You can learn more about Chantal Petitclerc at her website: Chantalpetitclerc.com