Petitclerc opens this year’s Défi sportif
by Pat Hickey, special to Inspirations
When Chantal Petitclerc’s competitive career was winding down, the celebrated Paralympian wondered what to do for the rest of her life.
The question was answered when she received a phone call from the prime minister of Canada.
“I was thinking about coaching or maybe getting involved in the media, and then I got this call from Prime Minister Trudeau, who said they wanted to modernize the Senate, making it more independent, less partisan. They wanted to appoint me,” Petitclerc said after addressing some of the 6,000 athletes participating in the April 24 press conference at the start of the Défi sportif, an annual multi-sport competition for people with disabilities.
“I thought about it for a few days, but you can’t say no to that,” said Petitclerc. “I was a history major in university, and I thought it was a chance to be part of the change. I said yes but, to be honest, this was the steepest learning curve because I’m not a politician, I’m not a lawyer. I remember the first question I was asking friends and former senators was whether, as a woman with a disability, I would be able to bring change. They said: “Yes, but you have to be patient.”
Petitclerc assumed office in March 2016. She sits with the Independent Senators Group.
Her priorities are health and the rights of persons with disabilities.
Petitclerc was 13 when she lost the use of her legs after a heavy barn door fell on her and fractured her spine while she was visiting a friend’s farm.
“Sports played a major role in helping me cope with the accident and becoming a person with a disability,” she said. “I was able to see that even with the wheelchair I had more potential than limits. Sports sends a message that you can do great things; you can belong.”
Petitclerc has done great things.
She has won a total of 14 gold medals in wheelchair racing at the Paralympic Games in Atlanta, Sydney, Athens and Beijing. She won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s athlete of the year, and she captured a gold medal in the 800 metres when wheelchair racing was a demonstration sport at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
With all her globetrotting success, Petitclerc is proud to be a spokesperson for the Défi sportif AlterGo, the “biggest multi-sport event in Canada and the only one that brings together elite and up-and-coming athletes of all functional limitations,” ac- cording to the organization.
“After I finished my history degree at the University of Alberta, I raced four or five times at the Défi sportif, and it was always special,” said Petitclerc. “Now, people go to the Paralympic Games and the media is there and it’s on TV, but back then the Défi sportif was a chance for friends and family to come and watch you.”
“We want to have a social impact through sports. We want to make people with disabilities known not because of their limitations, but because of their potential.”