Hall of Famer
A 10-time Paralympian and one of the most decorated Canadian athletes of all time, Colette Bourgonje has had a career of trailblazing for para athletes. With six winter Paralympic medals, four summer Paralympic medals, multiple World Championship and World Cup medals, her career was remarkable in its diversity and longevity.
At the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver 2010, Colette won silver and bronze medals in cross country skiing, putting her name in the history books as the first-ever Canadian to win a Paralympic medal on home snow.
Growing up in the small town of Porcupine Plain in northeast Saskatchewan, Colette was raised playing and participating in sports, gravitating towards endurance sport, such as cross-country running in high school.
A car accident in 1980 altered her life forever, when she suffered injuries which left her lower body paralyzed, a mere two months before graduation. Colette quickly adapted and committed to rehabilitation, while continuing her studies at the University of Saskatchewan, where she became the first person to graduate from her college in a wheelchair.
After graduation, Colette worked as an elementary physical education and classroom teacher for Saskatoon Public Schools, while continuing her training and competition. As a committed and determined athlete, she quickly climbed the ranks in Para Nordic events, competing in seven Paralympic Winter Games (she also competed in three Paralympic Summer Games in wheelchair athletics) where she amassed the 10 medals.
At the closing ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Games, Colette received the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, awarded to athletes who conquer adversities through the pursuit of excellence in sport. She is very proud of this award.
“Getting that silver medal in 2010 was huge for me and then to get that bronze medal made it a very magical games for me,” she said. “Leading up to those Games there was a commitment to “owning the podium”, which to this day I really like. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure I was ready for those Games so to hit the podium in the first 10K that was surreal and a real moment to share with such an awesome team.”
Colette also won gold medals in World Cup competitions in 2010 and 2011, to add to her two gold International Paralympic Committee World Cup victories in 1998 and 2005.
Since 2014, Colette has been a substitute teacher in the Prince Albert area, while remaining a mentor and role model for disabled athletes and youth. In 2016, she helped organize the Saskatchewan Para Sport Tour Dream Relay, gathering 14 Para athletes to tour the province across a 363 kilometer course to raise awareness and help aspiring athletes with physical disabilities connect with supportive programs and equipment. In 2018, with protégé Brittany Hudak on board the Para Ski Tour bus, they covered areas in Northern Saskatchewan. Honouring her family’s Métis heritage, Colette also endeavors to empower and coach young Indigenous athletes in her home province.
Colette is a strong advocate and ambassador of physical literacy and activity programs. The career and actions of Colette also inspired the next generation of para athletes such as Brian McKeever, Brittany Hudak and Mark Arendz.
“I feel like I’ve had many magical moments in the ski world and it’s been an extremely fun adventure. My legacy in skiing is passing it on to others, my passion for sport I hope will be felt for a long time within some of the kids I’m working with or even with some of the recreational skiers that love to get out and ski. If anything I hope my legacy is to pass it onto others in the sport, regardless of ability level. And who knows, maybe come 2030 there will be a Paralympian who comes out of Prince Albert.”
- 7-time Winter Paralympian: 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014
- 4-time Summer Paralympian: 1992, 1996, 2000
- 10-time Paralympic medalist: 1992 (2 bronze), 1996 (2 bronze), 1998 (2 silver), 2006 (2 bronze) and 2010 (silver and bronze)
- 1998, 2005, 2010: (gold medal, IPC) World Cup races
- 2011 gold medal World Championships 10k Russia
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Colette Bourgonje (Images)