“Yeah, I’m the one to beat, but that doesn’t mean I’m letting my guard down.”
Michelle Stilwell will leave Australia at the end of February with a new bag of accomplishments.
The Canadian wheelchair racer has spent the last three months training at Sydney’s Olympic Park, where she has created some of the most incredible moments for herself since winning 100m and 200m T52 gold at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games.
“It’s been the greatest place for me to be in preparation for London,” Stilwell said. “I go right out my door and just wheel to the track as my warm-up.”
In Australia, Stilwell, a quadriplegic, set new world records in the 100m, 200m and 400m T52 events, all of which she is the reigning world champion in.
In fact, she set all three marks in just three days at the Summer Down Under Series. On 22 January, she raced the 400m in a time of 1:06.57, shattering fellow Canadian Lisa Frank’s previous mark of 1:08.74 set in 1995.
Since Beijing, Stilwell’s goal has been to break Franks’ mark prior to the London 2012 Games. She came very close to topping it two years ago in Switzerland, falling just four hundredths of a second short.
It just was not meant to be.
Until 22 January that is – the second anniversary of the passing of 14-time Paralympic medallist Clayton Gerein, formerly one of Stilwell’s close mentors.
“I know he was there that day with everything that went on, and with how great I felt going up to my competition that night,” Stilwell said, overjoyed she could honour Gerein.
Two days later, she bettered her world-record times in the 100m and 200m with marks of 19.42 and 34.97, respectively.
Australia has proven to be nothing but a bright ray of sunlight for Stilwell this offseason.
She has had the opportunity to work with 13-time Paralympic medallist Louise Savage on the track, in addition to training alongside the likes of British duo Shelly Woods and Hannah Cockcroft as well as Australia’s Madison de Rozario.
Upon her return to Vancouver Island at the end of the month, Stilwell will focus on staying healthy. She started a raw vegan diet last year, but has toned it down to just 80 percent raw vegan since, incorporating chicken and fish into her dinners to ensure protein consumption.
“I’m a huge, huge promoter of healthy eating, diet and hydration and the role in plays in performance,” Stilwell advocated.
In the lead-up to London, Stilwell plans to compete in races in Switzerland and Canada, as well as the Portugal Half-Marathon and the U.S. nationals so she can see some of her top competitors in Americans Kerry Morgan, Cheryl Leitner and Mallerie Badgett.
It is an easy statement to say Stilwell heads the T52 class.
“Yeah, I’m the one to beat, but that doesn’t mean I’m letting my guard down,” Stilwell said. “I’m going to continue to focus on making myself stronger and do whatever I need to do to attain my goals in London.
“My goals in London are not just to win two gold medals.”