Highly decorated Michele Stilwell succeeds in sporting and political life

Among the great stories that defined Canada’s memorable experience as host country of the 2015 Parapan American Games, British Columbia’s Michelle Stilwell captured the gold medal in the women’s 100M T52 at CIBC Athletics Stadium. The T52 classification signifies a category for quadriplegics based on their functioning level. Athletes that are categorized in T51 possess less trunk control and reduced ability in their biceps and triceps.

Recording a time of 19.58 seconds, the 41-year old Stilwell finished one second behind the world record that she previously set in 2012. American competitors Kerry Morgan and Cassie Mitchell finished second and third, while fourth place belonged to Becky Richter of Saskatoon.

Having also raced in the finals of the Women’s 800M T53 event, Stilwell finished with a personal record of 2.22:90. Such admirable performances at the Parapan American Games solidified Stilwells legacy as Canada’s most decorated female paralympic athlete.

The greater victory for the University of Calgary-educated Stilwell was a gold medal victory on home soil. Complementing such an achievement is the fact that Stilwell captured a gold medal in women’s wheelchair basketball at the 2000 Paralympic Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. With both gold medals, Stilwell (who first become a quadriplegic at the age of 17) is the first Canadian female paralympic athlete to capture gold medals in two different summer sporting events.

Stilwell also enjoyed gold medal performances at the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Summer Games. At Beijing 2008, Stilwell enjoyed gold in the 100- and 200-meter wheelchair races. She would enjoy a p air of podium of finished in London 2012, gold in the 200-meter and silver in the 100-meter. Having also enjoyed gold medal triumphs at the 2006, 2011 and 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships, her greatest performance came in 2013, capturing gold in the 100-, 200- and 800-meter races, respectively.

In addition to her remarkable athletic career, Stilwell is also a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the riding of Parksville-Qualicum in the British Columbia provincial government. Elected on May 14, 2013, one of her first political duties included a stint as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health of Seniors.

Appointed to her own position as a Minister in BC Premier’s Christy Clark’s cabinet on February 2, 2015, she is responsible for the portfolio of Social Development and Social Innovation. Taking into account that she once worked on the BC Government’s 10 by 10 Challenge, an initiative to help provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities, Stilwell is an ideal and highly qualified individual to handle such a key position in the Cabinet. As a side note, her devotion to public service is boundless, as she also serves on the Treasury Board.

Prior to politics, Stilwell was a proud advocate for people with disabilities, while also performing duties as a motivational speaker. An ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation, another notable disabled athlete from British Columbia, her hard work culminated with an unprecedented honor in 2012. Stilwell made local history as the first person to receive Parksville’s Key to the City. In addition, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, a highly fitting honor. Whether it be debate, legislation, serving on committees or discussion with consultants, Stilwell’s work ethic is just as evident, resulting in a win-win situation for her constituents.

Canadian women provide golden performance in the pool at 2015 Para Pan Am Games

As the host country for the 2015 Para Pan Am Games, Toronto was treated to a remarkable display of swimming supremacy as Canada’s women went on to dominate in the pool. A total of 14 gold medals were won by six different Canadian female swimmers, capturing the hearts and minds of sports fans throughout Canada.

On August 9, Morgan Bird set a winning tone for the remainder of the week as she earned the gold medal in the Women’s 400m Freestyle S8(S7-8) along with the Women’s 50m Freestyle S8.

The following day, Aurelie Rivard would establish herself as the superstar of the Para Pan Am Games. Of note, the gold medal in the Women’s 100m Butterfly S10(S8-10) and the Women’s 50m Freestyle S10 would prove to be the first two among five gold medal triumphs.

Rivard’s golden ways continued as she obtained the gold in the Women’s 100m Backstroke S10. She would continue to accumulate gold in Women’s 400m Freestyle S10 and Women’s 200m IM SM10(SM9-10)

In addition, Tess Routliffe would prove to be just as remarkable in the pool. With four gold medals, she was one short of tying Rivard for the lead. She began her quest for gold on August 10 with the best time in the Women’s 50m Freestyle S7. On August, she once again finished on top with the best time in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke SB7. On the same day, she would capture gold
in the Women’s 100m Freestyle S7. The following day, she earned the gold in the Women’s 100m Backstroke S7

Other Canadian swimmers earning gold at the Para Pan Am Games were Katarina Roxon, victorious in the finals of the Women’s 100m Breaststroke SB8. Justine Morrier captured gold in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke SB14 on August 12 while Sarah Mehain would add to Canada’s remarkable gold medal haul with gold in the Women’s 50m Butterfly S7(S6-7) on August 13.

Marilyn Korzekwa touches all three provinces in remarkable swim of Northumberland Strait

Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, fifty-eight-year-old Marilyn Korzekwa managed to swim across the Northumberland Strait and back again. In accomplishing this, she managed to touch all three Maritime provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Her accomplishments are reminiscent of another successful middle-aged female swimmer, Diana Nyad, who swam from Cuba to Florida.

The 47-kilometre swim lasted 17 hours, beginning off the Amherst Shore of Nova Scotia. Swimming towards Prince Edward Island, the famous Confederation Bridge would present her with turbulence. Compounding such woes was the fact that water temperatures in Baie Verte were warm. Taking into account that jellyfish reside in warmer waters, the result was being stung over 50 times in her face, legs and arms.

Accompanied by a kayak and a boat, five crew members spent a week helping her to prepare for this odyssey. Enduring high winds, along with an overnight rainstorm and waves over a meter high in numerous directions, Korzekwa felt the urge to quit on more than one occasion. Yet, she refused as a way to inspire the patients of her psychiatry practice.

Of note, she reached New Brunswick near noon the following day although it was a challenging journey. Near Cape Tormentine, she endured lower than expected water temperature, resulting in close to frigid conditions. Swimming with an injured shoulder, it was testament to her toughness.

Although she trained for a 24-hour long swim, the conditions would not permit her to attempt a double-crossing of the Northumberland Strait. Next year, she plans to cross the Cook Strait in New Zealand, which would add to an impressive list of bodies of water that she has crossed. Other bodies of water on such a glorious list include Key West, Lake Ontario, plus the Triple Crown, consisting of the English Channel, the Catalina Strait, along with the Strait of San Pedro and Manhattan Island.

Ellie Black becomes Canada’s sweetheart with a memorable five medal performance at Pan Am Games

Although she was not a household name at the time, Ellie Black had already established herself as one to watch during the London 2012 Summer Games. Although she suffered a broken ankle during competition, she had gained the respect of many within the Canadian gymnastics team for her tenacity, as Black qualified for the Vault final.

Of note, her efforts contributed to a fifth-place finish in the women’s team final, the finest result ever attained in Summer Games play. Taking into account that the injury was sustained on a run down the mat, it was already part of an injury list that included a dislocated elbow and a broken thumb.

Three years later, a 19-year old Black has risen to the occasion. In every gymnastics competition at the 2015 Pan Am Games, Black has managed a podium finish. Reaching her remarkable potential, the outcome was three gold medals, along with a silver and bronze, respectively.

Competing at Ricoh Coliseum, home of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies, Black earned gold medals in the women’s all-round, becoming the first Canadian to gain gold in this discipline since 1979. On her final day of competition, she would gain two more gold medals, the first on the beam, followed by the floor exercise.

Scoring 15.050 on the beam, adding to such a meaningful day was the fact that fellow Canadian Victoria-Kayen Woo qualified for the bronze medal. Her second gold medal was won by a much narrow margin, as her final score of 14.400 was two-tenths of a point better than silver medalist Amelia Hundley of the United States. After the victory, a jubilant Black graciously signed autographs to the young fans in attendance, certainly providing them with a lifetime of memories.

Attaining such unprecedented heights builds on her three medals attained last year at the Commonwealth Games (gold – beam, silver – vault, bronze – floor); along with becoming the first Canadian gymnast to earn a ninth-place finish at the 2014 FIG World Championships.

Becoming the first competitor at the 2015 Pan Am Games to win five medals, fellow gymnast Jossimar Calvo Moreno from Colombia would also reach the magical number. Of note, the Canadian record for most medals was actually set at the third-ever Pan Am Games, back in 1959. Shooter Gerald Ouellette attained nine medals.

Testament to her toughness is the fact that she has always managed to overcome injuries by maintaining a training regimen on the things she was able to work on. Such effort paid remarkable dividends at the Pan Am Games, making her a national sporting hero.

Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, she was lured by many NCAA scholarship offers, but opted to stay close to home at Dalhousie University. Representing Dalhousie, she managed a podium finish at the 2013 Summer Unviersiade, earning silver on the floor and bronze on the beam, becoming the first Canadian female gymnast to do so since 1983. With the Rio Summer Games less than one year away, Black has certainly established herself as a gold medal favorite, possibly establishing herself as one of the finest Canadian female athletes for the second decade of this century.

Rosie MacLennan and Karen Coburn rise to the occasion with inspiring trampoline performances

Having been raised north of Toronto in nearby King City, part of the York Region district, the chance to compete in front of friends and family at the 2015 Pan Am Games was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Rosie MacLennan. As Canada’s only gold medalist at the London 2012 Summer Games, MacLennan delivered again.

Capturing the gold medal at the Pan Am Games, the feeling of home court advantage was highly evident as the five-foot-two spitfire displayed why she earned the 2013 world championship in the highly exhilarating trampoline event. Entertaining the spectators at Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum, while simultaneously impressing the judges, MacLennan earned a score of 53.560.

Recognition of an impressive performance that culminated with a gold medal featured the successful of triple somersaults twice. Although MacLennan successfully performed a trio of triple somersaults at the 2013 Worlds, it was still an effort that had the fans in attendance showering her with a senses shattering roar of applause.

Adding to such a memorable performance was the fact that MacLennan’s mentor and friend Karen Coburn joined her on the podium. Hailing from Stouffville (one of the municipalities in York Region), the mother of a two-year old daughter would garner the bronze medal.

Coburn’s ability to bounce back from a shattered ankle suffered eight months ago before the world championships in Daytona, Florida was a remarkable display of toughness and inspiration. Having won a medal for Canada at the sport’s debut at the Sydney 2000 Summer Games, along with two more in later Games, Coburn is highly worthy of the moniker “living legend” in her sport.

Factoring in that Coburn had to endure a steel plate and eight screws, such a gutsy display of character and perseverance was not lost on MacLennan. Of note, MacLennan nearly had her own Pan Am dreams taken away from her. Three weeks prior to the event, MacLennan over-rotated on a jump, suffering a mild concussion during training.

Considering that MacLennan also stumbled in the qualification session, the outcome could have been disastrous. Having won the gold medal at the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, there was a strong feeling of redemption in getting the opportunity to defend her gold. As MacLennan had also participated in the first day of the 2015 Pan Am Games torch relay, this was an event very close to her heart.

Finishing with the silver medal was Mexico’s Dafne Loza Navarro with a score of 52.000. As a side note, Keegan Soehn captured the gold in the men’s trampoline, providing Canada with a rare double.

Whitney McClintock ascends to water ski gold on the Pan Am podium

In a day where the Canadian water ski team captured six medals at the Pan Am Games, half of such an impressive medal haul is attributed to Whitney McClintock. Continuing Canada’s streak of 13 consecutive days of competition with a gold medal, McClintock’s gold took place on the women’s slalom. Adding to the magic was the fact that it was Canada’s 65th gold medal at the 2015 Pan Am Games, breaking the previous Pan Am Games record for Canada of 64 gold medals set at 1999 in Winnipeg.

Complementing such a milestone for McClintock were two silver medals in the women’s tricks and jumps. As a side note, her brother Jaosn is also a member of the water ski team, brining home silver in the men’s slalom.

One of the great thrills in McClintock’s Pan Am Games experience was the chance to call the legendary Jaret Llewellyn a teammate. Not only did he grab silver in the men’s tricks, but it signified the 11th Pan Am Games medal of his career.

McClintock has also accumulated an impressive share of Pan Am Medals. Having first joined the national team in 2003 when she was entering her teens, she has claimed seven Pan Am medals (prior to 2015) in her career, of which three were golden. Her first two Pan Am gold medals were earned in 2007, where she debuted as a 17 year-old competitior.

In addition to her sterling Pan Am career, she has won five world championships in women’s water ski. Back in 2009, the world championships were held on Canadian soil, representing a great milestone in McClintock’s career. Winning four gold medals at the event, she was only 19 years old, testament to her strong future ahead.

Also recognized as the IWWF Female Athlete of the Year in 2009, she comes from a strong bloodline of accomplished athletes. Her uncle Joel captured a water ski world title in 1979, while her aunt Judy also carved a Hall of Fame career. Earning a degree in Sports and Fitness from the University of Central Florida, she also works as an online fitness coach.

Long distance superstar Lanni Marchant obtains bronze in 10,000 meter race at Pan Am Games

Known as a superstar in the marathon, Lanni Marchant added to her remarkable status by adding a bronze medal in the Pan Am Games. Showing national pride, she wanted to compete on home soil in the Pan Am Games, opting to compete in the 10,000m race.

The presence of an international superstar like Marchant only added to the momentum of what continues to be a memorable event in Canadian sporting history. Day 13 proved to be lucky for Canada as it set a new national record for gold medal at the Pan Am Games. Winning five, the gold medal total rises to 69, breaking the previous record of 64, also set on home soil at the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg.

Capturing the bronze in the women’s 10,000m, she posted a time of 32:46.03. Considering that she is accustomed to much longer distances, she adapted really well to the shorter distance, adding to the remarkable medal haul at Toronto 2015.

Prior to the Pan Am Games, she already reached a remarkable milestone in 2015. After a second place finish in 2014, she would capture this year’s Canadian 10 km championship in a winning time of 31:48. Just four seconds off the record, she would also capture the 2015 Half Marathon Canadian crown.

Marchant does have experience representing Canada in major multi-national events. Making her IAAF World Championship debut in 2013 at Moscow, she was the first woman to represent Canada in the marathon since 2009. She followed it up with competition at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, where she placed fourth in the marathon event, the only Canadian that participated. Bronze medalist Jess Trengrove from Australia finished only 0:01:02 faster.

Of note, Marchant currently holds the Canadian record holder in both the marathon and half marathon. Coincidentally, the national marathon mark was also set in Toronto. Back in 2013, she finished the Toronto marathon with a time of 2:28:00. That time also held emotional impact for Marchant when she was competing in Houston’s Waterfront Marathon. Setting a new record time of 2:28:00, she broke the mark set by fellow Canadian, Sylvia Ruegger by 36 seconds.

Fast forward one year later, and the half marathon mark was actually set south of the border. Competing in Nashville, she posted the fastest time ever by a Canadian in a half marathon, finishing at 1:10:47. It would only be fitting if she had the chance to add to her growing legend with an opportunity at the 2016 Rio Summer Games.

Proving that it is never too late to pursue one’s dreams, Marchant began competing in elite marathons at the age of 28. As a side note, she did have experience competing in high school. Highly educated, Marchant holds degrees from the University of Ottawa, Michigan State University (where she ran for the MSU Spartans) and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Currently, she resides in Atlanta but works in Chattanooga as a criminal lawyer.

Melissa Bishop builds on momentum with 800m gold at Pan Am Games

Having carved a remarkable athletic legacy with the OUA’s University of Windsor Lancers, Melissa Bishop’s aspirations for a podium finish at the Pan Am Games were exceeded by a golden performance. Breaking the two-minute mark in the women’s 800 meters, the 26-year old employed tactical strategy as she remained with the top three runners throughout the race.

Surpassing the top three runners in the last 150 meters (she climbed into second by passing on the outside), Bishop’s crossing of the finish line resulted in an ecstatic crowd of Canadian fans in attendance, as host country Canada’s gold medal streak extend to twelve consecutive days. Registering a time of 1:59.62, Bishop finished ahead of American Alysia Montano, who settled for silver, while Brazil’s Flavia De Lima claimed bronze.

Jubliant over winning a gold medal on home soil, the native of Eganville, Ontario acknowledged the impact of the crowd in post-race interviews. With the gold, Bishop contributed Canada’s fifth gold in athletics at the Games.

Considering that she finished in eighth place at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Bishop continues to improve, establishing herself as a clear contender for gold at the 2016 Rio Summer Games. Taking into account that she suffered an ankle injury in May, several weeks of training were lost, only adding to the impact of the gold medal outcome.

As a member of the Windsor Lancers female track and field team, she helped them grab three CIS track and field championships. Of note, she would capture gold in the CIS national championships in the 600-meter and 1000-meter races with Windsor, where she earned a Bachelor of Education in 2011.

Making her Summer Games debut for Canada at London 2012 (where she placed 30th), it was part of a breakthrough year that saw her break the two-minute mark for the first time in her career. Accomplishing the feat at the Prefontaine Classic, she would build on this momentum with consecutive Canadian championships in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Greater Toronto Area track prodigy Sarah Wells adds Pan Am silver to promising career

Having competed in the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles at the 2012 London Olympics, Sarah Wells can now boast of a Pan Am Games silver medal. Competitive throughout the race, Wells finished second to Shamier Little, while Deborah Rodriguez of Uruguay earned bronze. Of note, Wells’ time in the race at CIBC Athletics Stadium was an impressive 56.17.

Upon crossing the finish line, she proudly adorned her back with the Canadian flag, running a celebratory lap while being showered with applause. As a side note, her semifinal time on the day prior was 56.77 seconds, placing second.
Leading into the Pan Am Games, Wells’ image, jumping over an imaginary hurdle, with her blonde hair flowing in the background, were plastered on a banner outside of Toronto’s Eaton Centre. She was quickly known as the “Face of the Pan Am Games.”

Raised in Unionville, Ontario (not far from 100 meter gold medalist Andre DeGrase who grew up in neighboring Markham), she ran in front of 20 to 30 proud family members in the stands, cheering her on. Of note, she was featured at 17 years of age in the Toronto Star. In 2007, she had qualified for the Canadian team that played in Brazil’s Pan-Am Junior Finals, with a time of 1.00:37 in the 400-meter hurdles.

As one of the stars of Unionville High School’s track and field team, she advanced to the Ontario track and field finals in her senior year. In regional competition, she had earned first place in three track competitions including the 400m hurdles, 100m hurdles and the winning 4×400 relay (of which she was the anchor).

Recognized as Unionville High’s track and field MVP for three straight years, Wells also excelled in field hockey. Complementing such a distinguished track career at the high school level was the fact that she broke the Canadian Youth under-17 record of 59.48 seconds in the 400m hurdles in June 2006. During her high school years, she would also practice at York University, the site of her silver medal run in the Pan Am Games.

Equally accomplished in the class room, her career took her to internationally renowned University of Toronto. Back in 2004, she was invited by the university to participate in its junior development program. At the 2013 Summer Universiade, she proudly represented the University (where she studies physical education and kinesiology) as she helped Canada gain the silver in the 4 x 400-meter hurdle relay.

During her preparation for the Pan Am Games, she participated in a series of tests where she lined up in starting blocks affixed to custom-made force plates, providing research information for grad student Lindsay Musalem. Working with other University of Toronto track athletes, the plates were used for the first time to gather data as the start is the most crucial aspect to success in sprinting, Looking to see if sprinters such as Wells can reproduce strong starts, Musalem was measuring the velocity of sprinters launching from the start blocks, while also determining the exertion of force in numerous directions.

The most admirable aspect of her remarkable run to the silver was the fact that she has bounced back from injury more than once. Prior to the 2012 London Summer Games, Wells was shelved for nine months, after a stress fracture diagnosis on her left femur. The bigger challenge was being able to return to her previous fitness level while maintaining her psychological toughness. A strong belief in herself, plus a strong support network was accentuated as she wrote the word “Believe” on her palm at London, waving to the crowd proudly.

After competition in 2014, the femur endured another stress fracture and nearly did not appear at the Pan Am Games after a tear in her hamstring. As devastating as it was, Wells proved why she is such a world class athlete overcoming adversity. The support of the League Group was an exceptional source of encouragement, helping her build on a remarkable level of fitness. It is an effort that she tries to reciprocate as a co-founder of the Fearless Action Challenge, empowering young girls to stand up to peer pressure while utilizing physical activity as a source of confidence.

Through great determination and perseverance, she managed to rebound and capture a fourth Canadian title in 2015. Contested in Edmonton, the Canadian championships took place just four days prior to the start of the Pan Am Games. As a side note, Wells managed to improve on her time, running faster than she had in practice with a time of 56.03, just 38 seconds off her personal best of 55.65.

Liz Gleadle earns Canada’s first gold medal on the field in Pan Am Games

With the track and field portion of the Pan Am Games underway, Liz Gleadle added to the strong momentum of national pride. Redefining the meaning of the term “Throw Like A Girl”, Gleadle is empowering and energizing. Earning the gold medal in women’s javelin, the crowd at York University’s CIBC Athletics Stadium was jubilant as Gleadle’s gold represented Canada’s first in the field.

In the aftermath of the victory, she burst into tears of joy, receiving hugs from her proud family in attendance. Home field advantage may have certainly propelled her to glory, as she excitedly proclaiming feelings of happiness knowing that so many in the crowd were behind her.

Of note, her distance of 62.83 meters surpassed U.S. record holder Kara Winger, who briefly held the lead with a throw of 61.44 meters. Prior to the Pan Am Games, Gleadle set the new Canadian record with a distance of 64.83m in May 2015 at an IAAF event in Kawasaki, Japan. As a side note, Brazil’s Juciline de Lima claimed bronze.

Under windy conditions, the lead had changed hands throughout the day. Early on, Gleadle’s throw of 59.33 meters was the top distance. De Lima would surpass her with a distance of 60.42 on her fourth attempt. On the final throw, Winger would set the new standard, placing Gleadle under pressure as she ranked third.

Despite the on-field rivalry between the two, there is also a strong mutual respect. Prior to the Games, Winger was reluctant as to whether she would attend. It would come on the suggestion of Gleadle to make the decision to compete.

Hailing from Lethbridge, Alberta, Gleadle is expanding her horizons by learing Spanish. Already fluent in English and French, her newfound knowledge of the Spanish tongue was not only a show of respect for the many Spanish-speaking competitors at the Games, she was also using it in conversation.

Always looking for ways to improve, Gleadle is highly analytical and stated that she felt learning the new language may stimulate other parts of the brain, expanding the thought process and providing different methods of approaching problems and resolving them. With a reading list that also includes works by Tim Ferriss, she has also applied yoga to her daily routine.

On the same day, Gleadle’s friend, Sultana Frizell (named after a winery in France) was also competing at York University in the hammer throw. With a 69.11 meter toss, Frizell earned a bronze medal, while American Amber Campbell obtained silver and a distance of 71.22 meters by Venezuela’s Rosa Rodriguez grabbed gold.

The gold medal for Gleadle reflects how far she has come in three short years. Making her Summer Games debut at London 2012, she became the first Canadian woman to qualify for the javelin final since the 1968 Mexico City Summer Games. Prior to Gleadle, the last Canadian woman to compete in javelin at the Summer Games was in Seoul 1988.

Rebounding after a back injury in 2013, she showed great potential in 2014. From fifth at the Commonwealth Games, she would follow it up with bronze at the IAAF Continental Cup and an impressive gold medal performance at the Birmingham Grand Prix Diamond League event. Such a milestone year was complemented by graduating from the University of British Columbia with a degree in kinesiology.