National titles, world championships, Paralympics gold – Michelle Stilwell’s athletic career has been full of firsts.
She added another Sunday afternoon during her homecoming in front of more than 100 supporters at the Parksville Community and Conference Centre.
Stilwell is the first person to ever receive the key to the city of Parksville, presented to her Sunday by Mayor Chris Burger on Michelle Stilwell Day.
“I’m so proud to call this beautiful place home,” Stilwell said in an emotional speech. “It’s been so special for all of you to share with me in this journey and completely overwhelming to have so much support from all of you here.
“I feel like I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.”
Actually, it seems luck really hasn’t played much of a role in Stilwell’s success. More like hard work and discipline, as evidenced by more than 1,400 days of two-a-day training sessions leading up to the 2012 Paralympic Games in London this summer, where she won a gold medal in the 200M and silver in the 100M races.
In total, Stilwell has four gold medals and one silver from three Paralympics Games and five gold and two silver from world championship events.
“I put everything I hard into preparing for these (2012) Games,” said Stilwell, stopping at times to dry some tears, something many in the crowd Sunday also had to do. “If you want to compete at the top level, it’s not easy. It takes strength, determination and a solid plan.”
Stilwell, the world record holder in the 100M, 200M and 400M events, was a favourite for the high-profile 100M event in London, where she placed second and took home the silver. She said she felt considerable stress being the favourite and struggled with expectations but “the conclusion I came to is expectation is a luxury.”
Stilwell also hinted she’d be back for another try at the podium as the Olympic and Paralympic Games shift to Brazil in 2016. Clearly, she still has that athlete’s competitive drive.
“I wouldn’t be a true competitor if I was happy with this,” she said, showing off her silver medal from the 100M event and making reference to her top spot in the record books. “I may have not been that day, but I’m still the fastest in the world.”
Stilwell was also presented Sunday with the Queen’s Jubillee Medal and she made a presentation herself as part of the RBC Olympic team – a $5,000 donation to the Wheelchair Race Series Society, the organization in which she first started racing.
Stilwell, 38, broke her neck when falling backwards off a piggyback from her boyfriend when she was 17.