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Latest NewsJul 24, 2016

"Taking Home the Gold" with Colette Bourgonje

by Andréa Ledding, Media Consultant
Copyright © 2016, Andréa Ledding. All Rights Reserved.

With nine Olympic medals from both summer and winter Paralympics, Colette Bourgonje excels at making successful adaptations in life. That is something she carries into each and every speaking engagement. 

Her basic message is that attitude is everything, but always tailored to what people want addressed, she adds. 

“I’ve got a message that I can deliver and lots of stories, and different directions we can go, and my life experience is quite the experience,” she notes. “The one thing that’s constant is change.

“Through my own life experiences, with me being a runner and then going into a wheelchair, actually all the opportunities as a result of being in a chair was kind of surprising to me.”

Some people might try and pity her for being in a wheelchair, but she describes it as nothing less than an amazing experience.

“And that’s what life is, our experiences and how we handle them.”

So attitude being everything is something Bourgonje not only believes in, but exemplifies. She just travelled Saskatchewan wi wi th the Para Sport Tour, from a vision she’d put together, highlighting 14 different participants. Some were youth: one child from Regina set an original goal of 200 meters, and wound up doing a kilometer.

“Teachers were crying, and it’s all because we set a goal and he rose to that occasion. And life is about setting goals and putting yourself out there and doing your best to achieve that goal.”

She also speaks about setting both short term and long term goals, which ultimately create a virtuous circle of setting goals and accomplishing them, bringing about confidence and self-belief.

“Putting yourself out there, not sitting on the sideline but taking a risk, is how you start believing in what you can do.”

She also fosters an attitude of gratitude, and IISB is one of the many things she’s grateful for.

“That’s what I actually see with Claire and Shannon. They’re so grateful for this opportunity to present and help others, and as a speaker I’m really grateful for that as well, that they’ve gone out on this adventure and they’re making it happen, and that’ s awesome.”

She thinks IISB is going to be a real game-changer for everyone: not just the speakers and the founders, but the clients who are going to benefit from accessing a new resource.

“It’s an amazing adventure that they’ve embarked on, with an amazing website. They’ve done a lot of work and I know they have amazing speakers. I’ve heard Susan Aglukark and she’s totally awesome.”

She describes not only Aglukark’s presence and musical talent, but her delivery and the story of the fascinating journey she’s been on. Not unlike Bourgonje’s own journey of excellence arising out of challenging circumstances, when it comes down to it, although she doesn’t make the comparison.

“I hope that people are inspired and motivated to move forward in their lives, to find out what makes them happy and to be grateful for what they have, to move forward and enjoy life,” notes Bourgonje. She believes that’s where attitude comes in, to help people enjoy the moment. “I’m hoping that they leave with a smile. It sounds simple but you know, sometimes it’s not simple.”

Even when it’s less than simple, she’s up for the challenge. After her first gold win in New Zealand in 1990, she was surprised to find herself becoming a speaker as people wanted to hear the story of her success as an athlete. Since she was a career teacher, it was fairly easy for her to move to speaking to larger audiences than the typical classroom.

“When you teach you talk, and you try to motivate students and as a teacher is a motivator, the two went hand-in-hand really as a unit, because as a teacher I try to be one of the most positive teachers a kid could ever have; I motivate positively, I think it’s the way we were raised as kids.”

In fact, she attributes her positive attitude and core approach to the way she was raised.

“I don’t remember being yelled at, I always remember trying to please and the positive feedback always made me work harder. I thought as a teacher it makes sense. I say thank you, I am respectful, if you respect your students they respect you back. That really made me love teaching and as a Coach I try to do that as well with the athletes —  give them the technique and do things with them and together we try to get better. I think as a speaker, you want them to leave uplifted and motivated and happy that they came to hear your message.”

The biggest highlight of her career is the Dr. Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award, a solid gold medal given out by the doctor it’s named for, which recognizes individuals who conquer adversities through the pursuit of excellence in sport. The founder and namesake of the medal was a polio survivor who was denied education in her home country of Korea, and became the first Doctor in Korea with a physical disability. When Bourgonje received the medal in Vancouver in 2010, it was one of the last times the Doctor would award the medal.

“I was really grateful to receive that award,” she noted. “That would be one of the biggest highlights of my career.”

Each country submits athletes, a selection committee then selects a few athletes and interviews them, and from there a male and female are chosen to receive the solid gold medals.

“She rose above the challenges in her life, and that’s what I think we all try to do, rise above our challenges to go a little higher; and that medal to me represents taking that extra step and doing the best and being the best that you can possibly be.”

Bourgonje knows all about personal bests, and she’s always enthusiastic about sharing her message with the world.

Copyright © 2016 Andréa Ledding. All Rights Reserved.

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