#9: Chantal Petitclerc

Written by Donald Royer

Chantal Petitclerc was born on December 15, 1969 in Saint-Marc-des-Carrières, Québec. In 1983, at the age of 13, she lost the use of both her legs after an accident at a friend’s farm, in which a heavy barn door fell on her, fracturing her spine.

She was introduced to sport in high school when her physical education teacher convinced her to try swimming during her lunchbreak because she was unable to participate in her physical education class. Her teacher regularly spent his lunch hour teaching Chantal how to swim over the next four years, in order to help develop her physical strength and resistance. Swimming ultimately helped her to discover her competitive drive – something she hadn’t realized that she had before her accident. 

In 1987, when she was 18 years old, Chantal met Pierre Pomerleau, a trainer for wheelchair athletes at Université Laval in Quebec City, who introduced her to wheelchair sports. Using a homemade wheelchair, Chantal competed in her first club race. Despite finishing last in the race, she had fallen in love with wheelchair racing, and the best was only yet to come. 

Chantal went on to study social sciences at the CEGEP de Sainte-Foy, followed by History at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. It was at the University of Alberta where she first started training with Peter Eriksson, who remains her coach and friend to this day. Eriksson helped Chantal become a stronger wheelchair racer mentally, and as a result, she became one of the strongest wheelchair racers in the world.

Chantal defines herself as a high-level athlete, not as a person with a disability. Her determination and desire to win sets her apart from many, especially her opponents. 

A track record that speaks for itself, Chantal took part in her first Paralympic Games in Barcelona in 1992 and won two bronze medals – in the women’s 200m and the women’s 800m. At the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games, Chantal set a world record in the 100m race with a time of 16.70 seconds, as well as winning the 200m event with a time of 29.41 seconds. She also won silver medals in the 400m, 800m, and 1,500m. She then went on to compete in the Sydney, Athens, and Beijing Paralympic Games.

Chantal competing at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta, USA

At the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, Chantal won a total of five gold medals in the women’s 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1,500m. While there, she also set world records in the women’s 200m with a time of 27.52 seconds, and the 800m with a time of 1.45.19 minutes. These two wins were particularly impressive, as the two events were held within a span of only 90 minutes.

Chantal has accumulated a multitude of well-deserved prestigious honors, including:

  1. In 2008, Chantal became the second wheelchair athlete – with Rick Hansen being the first – to win the Lou Marsh trophy for Canadian Athlete of the Year
  2. Also in 2008, she was named Canadian Women’s Athlete of the Year
  3. In 2009, she became a companion of the Order of Canada in recognition of her outstanding achievement and merit.

Following her retirement from Paralympic competition in 2008, Chantal continues to support the Canadian Paralympic movement. She has been a spokesperson for Défi Sportif for many years, and has become a highly sought-after public speaker. In 2010, she was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame; and was named the chef de mission for Canada at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. On March 18, 2016 she was named to the Senate of Canada. 

To this day, Chantal has appeared in a number of commercials, has covered sporting events such as the Parapan American TV Games, and is regularly called upon for interviews. She has been an unforgettable champion as an athlete, but also a great ambassador wherever she goes with the Paralympic Movement.