When Chantal Petitclerc was born in 1969 in Saint-Marc-des-Carrières, a small town in the Quebec region, no one knew that she would become an internationally renowned athlete. It was not until 1983, after the accident that left her with paraplegia, that she became interested in sports. In the beginning, she turned towards swimming simply with the goal of staying in shape. She renewed her confidence and discovered a taste for challenge. It was not until several years later, while training at the Centre de réadaptation François-Charron, that she met Pierre Pomerleau, a trainer of wheelchair athletes. He immediately noticed the determination that Chantal Petitclerc demonstrated and encouraged her to follow the path of wheelchair racing. Thus began the dazzling climb of this great Canadian athlete, specialist in wheelchair racing.
At age 18, Chantal Petitclerc participated in her first wheelchair race in Sherbrooke, and returned with the title of Most Promising and a "real" racing wheelchair. From competition to competition, Chantal has confirmed her talent and determination and reached the top of many Canadian podiums. It was in 1991 that she felt ready to conquer international tracks. To this end, she made the major decision to change trainers. "Pierre Pomerleau enabled [...] me to reach competition at the international level, but Peter Eriksson has much more drive than I, and I needed someone like him." (translation, L'actualité, May 1st, 1997, p. 78).
Her discipline, perseverance and determination led her to be part of the Canadian and international sports elite. An athlete affirmed by her successes, spirit for competition and versatility, Chantal Petitclerc has participated in competitions of all distances, in sprints as well as middle-distance and marathon events. She holds the Canadian record in all categories in the T4 class and holds the 100-metre world record as well. She has also won numerous medals for various world championships. She was a two-time bronze medallist in the 100-metre and 200-metre at the Paralympic Games in Barcelona in 1992 and won five medals (gold in the 100-metre and 200-metre and silver in the 400-metre, 800-metre and 1500-metre) at the Atlanta Games in 1996. Among her major performances, she placed first in the Winnipeg (1989), Toronto (1990, 1997), Montreal (1995) and Ottawa (2000) marathons. In 1999, Chantal Petitclerc was honoured for her contribution to the advancement of women in track and field by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF).
Chantal Petitclerc's success as an athlete did not stop there. Since 2000, she has continued to collect medals in major sporting events. She received four medals (gold in the 200-metre and 800-metre and silver in the 100-metre and 400- metre) at the 2000 Sydney Paralympics, beating her long-time rival, Australian Louise Sauvage. In 2002, she swept first place at the Commonwealth Games in England. But her most remarkable exploit was at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Athens when she came back from Greece with five Paralympic gold medals (the 100-metre, 200-metre, 400-metre, 800-metre and 1500-metre wheelchair races), and a first place in the 800-metre at the Olympics, where the race was featured as a demonstration sport. She has continued to dazzle us in 2005 with two gold medals (200-metre and 1500-metre) at the Paralympic World Cup in England. And this is only a partial list of her accomplishments.
A loner by nature, Chantal Petitclerc trains alone and is not a member of any team, but sets a rigorous training program of four hours daily, six days weekly and 11 months yearly for herself. However, in spite of a very busy schedule, Chantal finds the time and energy to be involved in several sports or cultural events that are dear to her, and has a career as a television host in addition to her sports career. Since 1994, Petitclerc has been the host of Loto-Québec lotteries on the TVA network, hosted Pareil, pas pareil for two seasons on the same network and regularly gives conferences on her experiences as an athlete. She is also the spokesperson for the Défi sportif des athlètes handicapés and was invited, among others, to the 21st Salon du livre de Montréal. She was the guest of honour at the "Women's March Against Poverty" and was honorary co-chair of the second Semaine québécoise des personnes handicapées.
These achievements have led to her receiving honours that include a Meritorious Service Medal (Civil Division) from the Governor General of Canada in 2003 as well as being named Canadian of the Year by Maclean's in 2004 and Woman of the Year by Chatelaine in 2005.
Chantal Petitclerc still has a challenge to meet though. Her dream is to see wheelchair racing recognized as an official sport at the Olympic Games.
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