London is calling Nanoose Bay wheelchair racer Michele Stilwell, and the married mother of one looks to be firing on all cylinders.
Stilwell had just come off her seventh Sun Run in Vancouver where she was the first female over the finish line at 32:39.7 (about 15 seconds off her course record).
At almost 50,000 entries, the Sun Run is one of the biggest 10Ks in the world and a long way from the racing ovals, but it’s all in a day’s work for Stilwell.
“It was supposed to be part of my training — I was supposed to jog it (go at a steady slower pace),” Mikey chuckled when asked about the time. “I think I probably jogged it a bit harder than my coach wanted me to, but once you get out there and start racing … it was kind of chilly and a bit windy so I was pleased with my result.”
Next up for Stilwell is the big annual Dogwood Track and Field Meet in Victoria in May, and from there she flies to Switzerland for the start of the Swiss Series, a multiple-event track meet and the last big international event in the buildup to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
The top wheelchair racers in the world will be there including her main competitor, Americans Kelly Morgan and Cheryl Leitner “which will be a good opportunity for me to see where they’re at,” said Stilwell, who won double gold at the Bejing Paralympics, winning the 100 and 200m events — both in record time.
Stilwell recently returned home after three months training in Australia, where she also surprised even herself by setting a new world record in the 400m.
“Amazing … it was a spectacular day,” she said thorough a big smile.
After Bejing, Mikey and her coach Peter Lawless “put the 400m world record in my training program as a target for London 2012,” she explained, “and started focusing on building up my endurance and speed and strength for the 400 meters.
In typical fashion, she fast-tracked her target and it all come together for her Jan. 23 at the ACT in Cambria.
Jan 23 was the second anniversary of the death of her good friend and former Paralympic teammate, decorated Canadian wheelchair racer Clayton Gerein, who died unexpectedly to a brain tumour.
“I wanted to break the record on that day, for him,” she said, adding, “we have a lot of amazing memories, and I just really thought that if the weather conditions were good that day I could do it.”
It was, she said, something she’d been planning for a couple weeks leading up to the race, “visualizing, and preparing,” adding the day of the race “everything was going great. There was a smile on my face when I woke up, the weather was perfect, not too hot, not to cold, and no real wind to speak of.”
She said she had a great warm up and everything was going smoothly until she pulled up to the starting line “and I got a flat. I heard the air leaking out of my right tire.”
Typically in a race like that, she said if you experience anything like that “you’re out of the race. You’re done. The official looked at me, shrugged, and said ‘sorry’.”
Stilwell said at that point she wheeled around to the far side of the track and joined her Team Canada teammates, thinking that was it, but her coach realized that they were waiting for her back at the start line, and her teammates quickly jumped to action and did a tire change that would make any pit crew proud.
“What I didn’t know is that while I was getting my tire fixed the other girls on the track were stalling and telling the officials they had no problem waiting for me, that they knew the race was important to me, and that’s when I knew something special was going to happen that day.
“If it hadn’t been for them (willing to wait), I mean they were all there with their own agendas, with their own goals to make standards to qualify for London — they had no reason to do that for me, so this complete act of selflessness and generosity, it was unbelievable. I pulled up to the start line I had time to take a deep breath, I had a quick thought about my friend Clayton … it was one of those races where you’re so in the zone you don’t notice anything that’s going on around you can’t even describe what happened. It was amazing.”
In the end, Mikey shattered the previous 400M record by almost two seconds with a time of 1:06.52.
“It’s a tough one — it’s a long sprint,” she said, paused, and made the point, “I was thrilled.”
In the meantime, Stilwell will return to the rock for the Times Colonist 10k, and after that, “the final push for London.”