RIO DE JANEIRO — Before she rolled up to the start line Saturday, Michelle Stilwell paused to soak in the sights and sounds of Olympic Stadium.
Not because it might have been the final moment on a Paralympic career winding down, but because it was just another great moment to be savoured.
The Canadian wheelchair racer sprinted to victory in the 100 metres on Saturday for her second gold of the Rio Paralympics, and sixth of her illustrious career.
The 42-year-old athlete and politician from Parksville, B.C., isn't sure what her immediate racing future holds, but she's learned to approach every race like it's her last.
"I do that every time, because you never know," Stilwell said. "And I think that's really what it's about for everyone. No matter if you're Paralympian or able-bodied, you can have a life-changing injury.
"In an instant your life changes. And so I think I try and enjoy every moment. And have fun."
Stilwell led from the gun and crossed in 19.42 seconds. Kerry Morgan of the U.S. was second in 19.96, while Belgium's Marieke Vervoort won bronze in 2012.
Stilwell went two-for-two in Rio, winning the 400 metres a week earlier. She's one of the world's most decorated Paralympic athletes, and was the first Canadian Paralympian to win gold in two different sports, helping Canada to victory in wheelchair basketball in 2000 in Sydney.
She's also an MLA in B.C. Premier Christy Clark's cabinet — she's the Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation — and trains in the early morning before her workday starts, on a set of stationary rollers in her office.
If she's gotten grief for her commitment to her sport — her high-profile job virtually guarantees some grief — Stilwell said she's like any other working Paralympian.
"There are other athletes here who are teachers, who are air traffic controllers, who have day jobs. I have a day job. My day job takes a little bit more time out of my life, but there are a lot of hours in a day," she said. "And instead of wasting my time watching TV and surfing the Internet, I use my spare time to be active and healthy. . . it's what I enjoy and have a passion for, and the fact that I stay as fit as I do helps me do my job."
Whether or not her future includes international racing, she'll remain passionate about health and fitness.
"Mentally, there's so much positivity that comes from sport and fitness. So I just channel that energy to help me do my job better," she said.
"No matter what, if I decide to go to Tokyo (for the 2020 Paralympics), then I decide to go to Tokyo, and I will find a reason to make it work. If I decide that today was my last race, I will still get up every morning and I will train. I just won't have that gold-medal goal anymore."
Stilwell's life-altering injury happened when she was 17. She was riding piggyback on a friend and fell backwards, hitting her neck on a stair and was rendered quadriplegic.
Health issues connected to her spinal cord injury forced her to retire from the Paralympic basketball team. She'd called it a career as an athlete, and had moved on to coaching when track coach Peter Lawless came calling in 2004.
"I will say 'a relentless sort of pursuit.' Others will say stalking,'" Lawless laughed, about his determined efforts to convince Stilwell to give track a try.
"I knew she was a diamond in the rough and there were places to go."
Stilwell was a world champion by 2006.
As for the future, she'll take some time to "savour the moments of the last couple weeks and enjoy it, and then it's time to re-evaluate and see what the future does hold," she said. "There's no denial I'm not so young anymore, and there's other circumstances in my life that play into that decision, family, work commitments, and whether I can keep going or not.
"Sport will always be a part of my life no matter what my decision is, and healthy active living is important for everyone, and I encourage anyone, no matter what their ability to participate at any level."