A St. Albert grad says she already has her sights on her next goal after rocketing to double gold at Canada’s national track and field championships.
St. Gabriel Education Centre graduate Maggie Slessor won gold in the 100-metre and 200-metre para-wheelchair events at the 2023 Bell Canadian Track and Field Championships held July 27-30 in Langley, B.C. The annual event features thousands of cheering fans and the top track and field competitors in Canada, this year including six-time Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse.
Slessor, 18, is a Sturgeon County resident with cerebral palsy, which affects her use of her legs and left arm.
Slessor said she still can’t believe she took the top prize in two of her races at nationals.
“It’s so weird being a gold medallist.”
Slessor said she is a lifelong athlete and into basketball and swimming. She said her sister, Evelyn (an assistant coach with the University of Alberta’s Steadward Bears para-track squad), suggested she try wheelchair racing about a year and a half ago.
Slessor said she was skeptical of the sport at first, but fell in love with it as soon as she sat in the three-wheeled, dragster-like racing chair.
“I love going fast,” she said, and the racing chair lets you hit bicycle-level speeds — more than enough to keep up with her dad earlier this year during the 2023 RunWild race in St. Albert.
“I just love that it’s something I can do with my friends. They have to sprint after me, which is pretty fun.”
Coach Maegan Ciesielski said Slessor’s background in swimming gave her the fitness and discipline needed to win as a wheelchair racer.
“It’s not a sport you can just pick up and be good at,” Ciesielski said — you need plenty of arm strength, stamina, and technique.
“A lot of it is really monotonous training.”
Slessor said she trains six days a week for a race, with two days on the track and four on a set of rollers at home. During a race, she kneels on the racing chair’s seat while leaning forward for maximum aerodynamics, arms cocked above the wheels, nose just a foot above the track.
“My favourite feeling is right before the gun goes off because there’s so much adrenaline pumping through your veins,” Slessor said.
Once the race begins, Slessor said she propels herself forward by punching down on the chair’s rims (athletes wear leather gloves to do so) and slaps a lever to tilt the front wheel for steering. She keeps her eyes glued to the lane markers in case her uneven arm strength sends her off course.
Slessor finished the 100m race in 35.86 seconds and the 200m in 1:16.13, earning her a gold medal in both events.
Slessor said the sounds of the crowd screaming her name helped propel her across the finish line. The first thing she said upon learning of her gold medal results was, “Oh my God, I have to fix my hair!”
Slessor is heading into the therapeutic recreation program at NorQuest College this fall. On the track, she hopes to get her time for the 100m under 30 seconds this year, and to make the national paralympic team around 2028.
Slessor thanked her family and the staff at the U of A’s Steadward Centre for all their support. She said wheelchair racing has been a big boost to her confidence.
“If you have a dream, just go for it,” Slessor said, when asked if she had anything to say to other young athletes.
“Show everybody what you can do.”
Visit live.athletics.ca/meets/26525 for full results of the 2023 championships.