Legendary Paralympic Cross-Country Skier Colette Bourgonje Calls it a Career —Dual winter and summer athlete retires with 10 Paralympic medals —
June 13, 2014
CANMORE, Alta.—One of Canada’s most decorated Paralympic athletes, Colette Bourgonje,has decided to call it a career after competing against the world’s best in Para-Nordic and wheelchair athletics for more than two decades.
Bourgonje, who is recognized around the world as the only athlete to compete in each of the seven Paralympic Winter Games from 1992- 2014, also represented Canada at three Paralympic Summer Games in wheelchair athletics. The 52-year-old Saskatchewan resident will head into retirement with six Winter (three silver, three bronze) and four bronze medals at the Summer Paralympic Games. She put her name in the history books in 2010 as the first-ever Canadian to win a Paralympic medal on home snow after she claimed the silver in the women’s 10-kilometre sit-ski race at Whistler Paralympic Park.
“The one thing that is constant in our lives is change. If we embrace it and are flexible, we can move forward,” said Bourgonje. “After 24 years of competing internationally I am ready to move on and embrace change. It has been an incredible journey and with 10 Paralympics behind me I have experienced lots of change in the Paralympic movement.”
What she thought would be her last Paralympics in 2010, Bourgonje went on to win the women’s sit-ski distance race at the 2011 World Championships. The historic victory hooked her to compete through to the Sochi Games where she has also served as a key mentor for young athletes entering the program.
“Colette Bourgonje’s name is synonymous with Paralympic sport in Canada,” said Richard Lemoine, president, Cross Country Canada. “She leaves our sport having played a significant role in putting Para-Nordic skiing on the international radar, and ensuring its credibility within the Canadian sport system. Colette has been a great athlete, and her page in the history books may never be challenged.”
Bourgonje’s illustrious career was recognized at the Closing Ceremonies of the 2010 Paralympics where she was the recipient of the prestigious Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award – a solid gold medal that is presented to an individual that conquers adversities through the pursuit of excellence in sport.
“The experiences, awards, and celebrations with my teammates and coaches are memories that will last a lifetime,” said Bourgonje, who was also the first graduate in a wheelchair at the University of Saskatchewan’s Physical Education Department.
“Without the support of my family, friends, and colleagues, this journey would have ended a long time ago. I can’t thank everyone enough for your patience, caring and love. I have been blessed.”
An elementary school teacher by trade, who had a passion for cross-country running, Bourgonje was introduced to Para sport by the Saskatchewan Wheelchair Sports Association (SWSA) following a car accident in 1980 that left her paralyzed at the mid-back level. Undeterred by adversity she resumed racing in a wheelchair where she went on to win her four medals at the 1992 and 1996 Paralympic Summer Games.
“SWSA and Sask. Sport fuelled a dream for me to be the very best,” said Bourgonje. “With Bruce Craven writing and guiding my program for years while working with a list of coaches including: Peter Erickson, Jeff Whiting, Kaspar Wirz and Robin McKeever that provided the insight and knowledge to help get Canada on the podium. Their passion and support will never be forgotten.”
Meanwhile, after meeting Pat Procopchuk who had brought the first sit-ski to Saskatchewan in 1991, a new journey had begun, where Bourgonje went on to become one of the most recognized sit-skiers in the world.
“Pat, Cross Country Canada and Cross Country Saskatchewan have been so supportive, and have helped fund my journey over the years,” added Bourgonje. “They have presented me with the opportunity to chase my dreams and represent my country while traveling the world and meeting incredible people through sport. I have learned from them, and have been inspired by them, and for that I am grateful.”
A tireless advocate for healthy living through physical activity for everyone, especially children, Bourgonje is an ambassador of In Motion – Saskatchewan’s movement to increase physical activity. She plans to share her story in a variety of speaking events, seek teaching opportunities in Prince Albert or Duck Lak, Sask., and spend time with family.
Cross Country Canada is the governing body of cross-country skiing in Canada, which is the nation’s optimal winter sport and recreational activity with more than one million Canadians participating annually. Its 58,000 members include athletes, coaches, officials and skiers of all ages and abilities, including those on Canada’s National Ski Teams and Para-Nordic Ski Teams.
With the support of its valued corporate partners – Haywood Securities Inc., AltaGas,. Canadian Pacific and Statoil – along with the Government of Canada, Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee and Own the Podium, Cross Country Canada develops Olympic, Paralympic and world champions. For more information on Cross Country Canada, please visit us at www.cccski.com.
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