VICTORIA –Michelle Stilwell, one of the world’s most decorated Paralympic athletes and the first Canadian Paralympian to win gold in two different sports, has announced her retirement.
The seven-time Paralympic medallist and world champion wheelchair athlete made her announcement on Twitter.
She says she’s achieved her sporting dreams and wants more time with her family.
The 42-year-old won two gold medals for Canada at last summer’s Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.
She raced to victory in both the 100 metres and 400 metres.
Stilwell is a cabinet minister in British Columbia’s Liberal government and is seeking re-election in her Vancouver Island riding in May’s provincial election.
“I feel like it’s the right time and I’ve done what I want to achieve at the paralympic level,” Stilwell said in an interview before her announcement. “I’ve had time to reflect since Rio and really just spend time with my family and enjoy that part of my life. It’s a good time to look ahead and prepare for what the future holds.”
On her Twitter account on Thursday night, Stilwell said: “Thank you for almost 20 years of incredible memories, triumphs, friendships & gratitude. Time to put the brakes on.”
She became a quadriplegic at 17 when she fell during a piggyback accident. Dropping sports was never an option for the lifelong athlete.
She said she decided to retire while on a Christmas vacation in Mexico. It was the first getaway in years with her husband and son that didn’t involve sports.
“I won’t say it was an epiphany, but it certainly was like, ‘I enjoy this,’ “ said Stilwell.
Her medal haul started in 1998 when Stilwell was a member of the world champion Canadian women’s wheelchair basketball team, which won gold at the 2000 Sydney Games. But health problems associated with her spiral cord injury forced Stilwell to leave wheelchair basketball.
She turned to wheelchair racing and won two golds at the Beijing Paralympics, gold and silver at the London Games, and the two golds at Rio. Stilwell won world championships in France and New Zealand.
“I wasn’t one of those individuals who just broke their neck and now uses a wheelchair,” Stilwell said. “I’ve had countless surgeries and … every time I’ve gone back and challenged myself again. That’s what I’m proud of. I never gave up.”