Nanoose Bay Wheelchair racer Michelle Stilwell returned home from her full medal showing at the 2011 IPC Athletics World Championships in New Zealand last Thursday; exhausted and still a bit miffed, but no less proud and a little wiser for the experience.
On the track in Christchurch, Mikey, as she’s known to family and friends, powered her way to three gold medals and a silver, and along the way set two knew World Championship records.
“Almost three … so close to three (records) it hurts,” she panned this week when The News caught up with her, her competitive nature on display.
At the World Championships (where she was chosen to carry the Canadian flag in the opening ceremonies) Mikey garnered gold in the 100, 200 and 400 meter events, setting new games’ records in the 100 and 200, and coming within 7/100ths of a second of setting a new record in the 400.
Her silver medal came in her final event on Jan. 28 in the 800 meters.
“The 800m was gruelling with strong nor-easterly winds — I swear I was pushing into a head wind the entire two laps,” Mikey said in our last e-mail before she shipped off for a much deserved holiday. “I went out strong figuring I could get the lead and keep it the entire time. The wind did me in with my endurance, and stamina just not where it has been in the past.
“I pulled the American (Kerri Morgan) for the first 700m and then she pulled away on the final corner as I had nothing left in my arms. I know you can’t learn anything from always winning, so in a way it is good because I am taking away valuable knowledge for the next time I race the 800m.”
Fast forward to Thursday, and even with the 30 hour return trip home behind her, Mikey was still steaming.
“What makes it hurt so bad is that I worked so hard. I pulled Kerri for pretty much the entire race, and she passes me right at the end for the win. It wasn’t until around the 700 meter mark that I started getting tired, so I slowed down a bit just to give my arms a quick rest before the push for the finish, and she started bumping me from behind. I was getting kind of mad — I should have just pulled over and let her take the pull for the last lap and I would have won gold.”
At the end of the day, though, the World Championships are not the ultimate goal for the Islander’s diminutive warrior with the infectious smile.
“The ultimate goal is London 2010. That’s what really matters.”
For those following along at home, the married mother of one was a world class wheelchair basketball player for five years (‘96-2001) and made the switch to wheelchair racing in 2002 on the advice of her doctor.
“I had brain surgery, so apparently I’m not supposed to play basketball anymore,” she panned.
One of this country’s most decorated athletes in her sport, Mikey has competed in some 20 international events spanning four continents over the last two years, including the 2008 Beijing Paralympics where she blew away the field on her way to two gold medals and two Paralympic records in the 100 and 200m events.
Stilwell is the reigning Canadian record holder in three events — the 100, 200 and 400 m races.
Back on Jan. 29 she was named BC Athletics’ Female Athlete of the Year, and last December she was took home honours as Canadian ParaAthletics Track Athlete of the Year. She’s a two-time winner of Pacific Sport’s Sport Achievement awards.
After the World Championships, Mikey and her family grabbed some quality R&R together in New Zealand. She says she’ll take one more week off “then it’s back to training.”
Team Canada’s first training camp is in Florida in March, and her next big event will be Switzerland in early June.
“I’m just going to take a little breather and then refocus on 2012,” she said, pointing out, “London is only 18 months away, and apparently to make sure that 800 meter debacle doesn’t happen again I’m going to have to step up my game.”