Perdita Felicien

is a two-time Olympian, ten-time national champion, and the first Canadian female athlete to win a gold medal in track and field at the IIHF World Championships.

Defining Success


Perdita Felicien defines success as an ongoing process that leads to happiness and self-contentment, rather than a competition to win.

Perdita Felicien: I think success for me is going into something and doing it the best way that I can. That's it. But also acknowledging for any human, any person, your best on any given day will look different, right? So our best today, all of us collectively would be one thing. Tomorrow our best can look a different way. And giving yourself permission to understand like... "Maybe I just don't have it today, but this is enough." It is also, especially as a woman in this world where the world tells us, "You're not good enough, you can't do this. Men do it better. We're not paying you equal", whatever, is really being OK with who you are, where you are, and knowing how you do your thing is how you do your thing, but loving how you do your thing, even if it doesn't look like the way she's doing it, or she did it. Do you know what I mean? Especially in track and field, right? Every competition is a comparison. Who is faster in what lane, right? Who has the best time and who has the gold medal versus the bronze versus the 9th place? It's a constant comparison and you want what that person has. Like, "You got the gold last time or you're defending, it's mine now. I want that. I want what you had. I'm going to undo you." And really in this new life, I've really learned like, what I have is enough. What I bring to the set of All-Round Champion is enough, what I bring to hosting an Olympic gig on CBC is enough. Does it look the way so and so did it the last Olympics? Does it look like the way it's done on another network? Not my problem, but this is what I get and I'm proud of what I have, and this is what I'm giving you. And take it or leave it. So I think that to me defines my success. Now it's not a thing, it's not money, it's not a title, it's not what other people are saying about me. It's what I'm saying about me.

The Pressure of Achieving Excellence

2 min 43 s

Perdita Felicien reflects on societal and cultural pressures that push her and other immigrants to a...

Perdita Felicien: And so you have to... Even with my daughter Nova, She's 3 now. I... and this is an epiphany for me, I used to want supreme excellence for her. You know? There's this theme that goes around in my own way as a first generation Canadian, this idea around black excellence and building things and acquiring, you know, that's your value, that's your worth. And I always wanted, even before I had Nova, I wanted her to be great. I wanted her to be excellent, I would think about where she's going to go to school, what she could be and all that. In the couple years since the pandemic and since having her, I have completely just demolished that frame of thinking in my own mind and deconstructed that. Like, why does she need that? And for me, for a long time, and this is my own baggage as a person of colour, almost to show your worth or your value, you need to have something to show for it. Well, I'm a great this. I'm a great lawyer. I'm a great athlete. Value me. Here's my contribution to society. And now I see it as, no. No. You don't get to be safe or protected, or valued or respected because you've achieved these things as a person of colour. You get to be and have all those things because you simply exist. And that is enough. And so, in my mind, I'm thinking, "Do I want my daughter to like, do amazing and awesome things?" Yeah. But do those amazing and awesome things have to be public or get her a lot of money. I now... This is gonna sound so hokey, I know, but this is where I am as a parent, as a woman, and I'm unlearning things that I learned and I was taught, even subconsciously. It's OK for her just to see the sunrise and to see people as they are and that be what the day is. That's what I'm achieving today. That's the greatness of the day. And I think because I felt a little bit burnt out as I was going through the pandemic, that, I'm like, "How do I not pass this on to my child?" This hyper productivity, having to achieve, having to be great. And I'll be honest with you, part of that is from my, not my rearing but really my childhood. Like, I had to make my... Because I saw my mother's existence, I saw how she struggled. Well, I have to achieve, I have to be great, I have to do stuff, right? Because I want her to know it's not in vain. I want the world to value me because the world didn't always value my mother. I'm realizing, Well, I can stop there, and I can still pass those traits on to Nova of being great and wanting to achieve without costing her too much.

Uninvited Attention to Athletic Female . . .

1 min 38 s

In this clip, Buffy talks about the hard work that went into writing Universal Soldier and accepting...

Perdita Felicien: Being self-conscious about body, of course, I think any woman has issues with her body. We're always trying to be kind to ourselves and be body positive, but that's not always easy when you're living in your mind and your body. And yeah, outside of track and field, people who’d like touch my biceps and like "Oh", you know? Or guys wanting to race you or wrestle you like, "Dude, I would crush you", right? You don't want any of this smoke, let me tell you. But you do outside of that system, especially women with muscles and curves and that looks the way that I do have wrestled with that, you know? And I would never wear sleeveless tops for as long as I live because it would draw attention to my body, and I wouldn't want that kind of attention at all. Now I do because I'm like, "It's my body, it's the way it is. I'm proud of how it moves and works, As every woman should." But I think that women in sport in particular, you're always fighting that: am I feminine enough? Do people think I'm masculine? What are people saying and doing? Maybe that's why even women in track and field, especially if you look at women sprinters, there's something so affirming and so beautiful about them at the start line, especially this latest generation, because there is a way they come up to the line And they present themselves. It might be their nails, it might be their hair, it might be their lipstick, might be their earrings. They are so confident and assured in who they are, who they are when they stand at the starting blocks. And I'm like, "Yes", and I get it. They want to be like, "See me. All of me. And not just the athlete me."

The Story of “The Girl Who Failed and Got . . .

3 min 36 s

Perdita Felicien talks about the moment she lost her chance to win an Olympic medal in the Athens O...

Perdita Felicien: It's a reality of my story. You know, I've given you some pieces that represent really joyful and triumphant moments in my life, but that one is a representation of pain and downfall and a really hard moment. I don't think the story, at least the story of me, wouldn't be fully authentic if something about Athens or, you know, the... the negative aspects of being an athlete were part of this collection, like it had to be in there. It's interesting when I saw that bib, my coach saw it, my... university coach, my longtime coach, Gary Winckler, and you have no say at what number you'll get at the Olympics. People might think, "Oh, you choose that number." Who's choosing 1313 or 13 anything? Not most people, especially if you're superstitious. A lot of it has to do with your country, your last name, how you just fall in this random sequence. That was my draw. I remember him showing me the number as I was at the Athens Olympics, you get everything before you even start racing. And he walked in just like, "Ha!" He put it behind his back and he kind of showed me to spook me. Or, you know, to kind of like; We were making fun of it. I did not take him on. I kind of played along in the moment. I was like, "It's a number." A number has no control over me, no consequence, nothing, right? Whatever. I wasn't scared of it. Still not scared of it. But I understand looking back at exactly what happened to me. If you're a conspiracy theorist, if you like to make things make sense, it seems like that number did you in you fell because of that number. Who will ever know? We'll never know. When I get to the pearly gate, I'll ask God if he knew anything about that. But I think in my story it is a relevant part of my story. It is a part of my story that made me realize that... things are really fragile in life. Things are really fragile in life. The thing that you think you deserve, and you've worked so hard for is not necessarily the thing that you get, and you get what you get, but what do you do with what you get? And I've always decided this is not it. Like this is not my portion, this is not the only thing I'll ever do. It was also the infancy of my professional career. I had only signed with Nike. Athens happened in August of 2004. I became pro that spring. So I hadn't been professional for more than a few months, and I'd left Illinois early, so I still had another semester and another year of school, a semester of racing and a year of school. So I left early to "go pro", which track and field like you don't really do that. But I did not want to leave my story there, like the girl who fell. And I do say "the girl who fell". I'm also the girl who got up and created more from her experiences. But I am the girl who fell because for a lot of people and even till now, I'm not only the girl who fell but I am the girl who fell. And they remember me not always... For all the stuff that we've talked about and that we celebrate, in this conversation. But that Athens moment, they knew where they were, they stopped work, they stopped what they were doing. They cried for me. Everybody was in Nathan Phillips Square for a moment, watching this jumbotron. Then this moment happened. The most shocking moment you could imagine because the story was so well written. The story was so poetic. Then you have this nightmare event that happens while the world is watching. That's, I think, what made it significant, but it is a very valid part of my story that I will never shy away from.

Life After Retirement from Sports

3 min 14 s

Perdita Felicien reflects on the challenges and conflicts, such as identity crises, that athletes ma...

Perdita Felicien: So the thing is, my entire life I've been an athlete. Most of it. I started racing when I was eight or nine and then when I was 30 something, I was done. So, a lot of my identity was there. I always had like a finish line or goal for something to chase, sink my teeth into. When you do stop something that you've been really good at and people see you as and celebrate you for and you suddenly stop, there's a quiet that comes. There's like: "Oh, no one's asking for an autograph. No one cares that I'm important. No one cares I can jump this thing that's really high, like faster than anybody else can do it." And suddenly you have to reckon, you have to reckon and face who you are. What is next? You don't know what's next. Thankfully for me, since ’08, at the Beijing Olympics in ’08, I kind of lucked into knowing what I wanted to do next because I was broadcasting there for the CBC. I was injured. So from 2008 to 2013, I knew in the back of my head I wanted to be broadcaster, I wanted to tell stories, and so I was always working towards that in some way. So when I retired, I had my next and I already tasted my next in a way of like, I like being in front of the camera. We clearly see, I like to talk, so I like to talk, I like to do all that stuff. So I knew-- Once I stopped doing this, I knew what my next thing was. What's really hard for elite athletes is you're never ever that good, very rarely, at the next thing as you were, as what made you famous or important or special or unique in sport. "Not everybody acts like that." You go into acting, but like all these that go into aren't that good or whatever And it doesn't... Maybe they're not that good. And maybe that's me being tongue-in-cheek, but you never feel the same, right? The adrenaline, the high, the attention, the praise, the noise, the success of it, The... How intense it feels. Nothing really compares to it, right? Even those of us who have gone through childbirth and mother, and all those marriages and all that, those are so good. They're amazing. But like-- Being at the top of the pyramid, 80,000 people in a stadium looking at you, knowing your name, chanting for you, and then you win the thing. Come on, right? Even falling as much as I fell, you never want that to happen. But it was... I mean, I fell fabulously. That it could happen in such a dramatic loud fashion. You see what I mean? So the extremes of your emotions, the highs of it, the lows of it, very few things in life after that compare on that kind of a scale that depth and breadth and intensity. And so I think that's what we miss. It's a drug in a way, right? It's adrenaline in a way. You never get that same injection. Doesn't mean your life is not as meaningful and not as great. These quiet moments are important. But I think that's what a lot of us miss afterwards. And especially if you haven't made peace with that journey. You were injured, you were forced out, whatever, it's harder because you never get that time back. Ask me if I could run 12 seconds in a hurdle race today. I might give you like 10 thousand seconds, but you're not getting 12 ever again. You can't go back.

Perdita Felicien in the Canadian Sport . . .

2 min 26 s

Perdita Felicien explains where she sees herself in the Canadian sport landscape.

Perdita Felicien: I've never thought about where I fit in the sport landscape, but what I do know is when you think of... It's so weird to think of myself at times as a household name. I remember my coach Gary Winckler from Illinois randomly was in Canada with his wife. He was in Vancouver somewhere. This is when I was still racing. And his wife, they know who I am in Illinois, in that ecosystem. He came back and told me the story of how his wife was in Vancouver somewhere, or in BC. She was in the back of a cab and asked the cab, "Have you ever heard of Perdita Felicien?", just randomly. And he's like, "Yeah, yeah, she's the hurdler. She's the sprinter, right?" And him coming back, and his wife being so like, "Oh my God..." You know what I mean? I remember that story always sticking with me or people saying, "I saw your book on the GO Train, someone was reading your book" or whatever, these things. It's hard for me to accept that they're thinking like, household name. What does that mean? But I will say as I get older, I realize there aren't a lot of sport, women in sport, especially black women in sport who have the platform that I have and have, if not necessarily the face recognition but the name recognition that I have. You might not know how to say my name, but if you see it written down or something, you know it. Maybe the face recognition too, I don't know. But I was like... when I accepted that I was like... Yeah, I am, you know, the first Canadian woman of any race in anything in track and field to win a gold medal at the World Championship, first until this day, as of this interview, the only, I really take pride in that. I take pride in that. And I just hope wherever I fall in the ethos, wherever I fall on this long story and beautiful story of Canadians in sport, women in sport in Canada. I'm just really proud of what I've done. I'm fiercely proud of it. I've worked really hard to make sure I don't just see myself in the lens of Athens that has taken a lot of work, not to just be the girl who fell, and to undo that mentally, in my own head. That's not my legacy. That's not why I race. That's not me. However people define me or wanna define me, I'm cool with it because I think it will be mostly good.

The Bumblebee Spikes

4 min 11 s

Perdita Felicien talks about her spikes and the personal meanings and significance they carry for sp...

Perdita Felicien: You have to understand the fact that the Museum has a pair like those are sacred for a sprinter. Your spikes... We don't wear a lot of armour, right? We're not like... You know, a hockey player who has a helmet and all the gear and the skates. That's really all we have. We have our kit and our bib number for sure, but there is a relationship that you have with your spikes. You don't switch out your spikes all willy-nilly, the way that you might a T-shirt, your bib changes for every competition. So it is really sacred property. Every athlete, sprinter, talk specific sprinter, does have a different relationship or something that they do with their spike. For me, I had won so many races in that spike. I had won multiple NCAA racing that spike, multiple conference titles in that spike, records in that spike. And what happened is Nike stopped developing that specific spike before the Paris World Championships and they want you to wear their new edition. But here's Perdita Felicien their star collegiate athlete. Because University of Illinois was sponsored by Nike. So they want all their star athletes in their latest shoes. And it became a little bit political. Not in a bad way, but they're like, "Oh, Perdita Felicien loves those spikes. She's a star track star. But we have new spikes. We actually want to show those off to all the other schools and all the other athletes so maybe they'll go buy them. Kids' parents will go out and buy them." But I love and they would call them the bumblebee spike. They were affectionately known on my behalf in my school as the bumblebee spikes. That's what my coach would call them because they're black and yellow. I remember they tried to bring the other spikes leading into that transition. You work spikes in as you go race to race, maybe in practice, then it's lesser race, smaller race till they become your spike. If you don't like that spike, you choose another model or different colour or whatever. But I had been racing those basically from the beginning of my career. So now 2001-ish, 2000 to now 03, which is a long time to be in one particular kind of spike. And I remember they ran out. There's no more. They weren't gonna give us anymore. So my university, the equipment managers were now sourcing to get me extra backup pairs wherever they could across the country of that bumblebee spike. That's how much I loved them. It came to a point where we ran out. There's no more, you can't source anymore. These are now beat up. I had to find a new pair. And that happened after Paris. But, you know, these spikes, I would baby them. If you notice, there's sharp pins. You take the pins out and it's almost like you're holding a baby... It's horrible, but you're like, holding a child and you're delicate with your spikes, the way you bend them and the laces that you put in, how you do it. It would be a moment, this ritual of when you're changing your spikes, when you're putting the laces in and the model might be the same but the one that you wear in training is different than the one that you wear in the warm up arena. And that one you wore in the warm up arena is the one you're wearing on race day, in the actual race. So you have multiple versions of that same spike. If you're spike is missing, you want to make sure it's not missing. You always have that because can you run naked? You probably don't want to, but you can run naked if they let you. But can you run without your spikes and win? Heck no, you can't. So you make sure you keep that thing really close. And so it's interesting, and my coach is probably going to remember this. I remember him asking me specifically after the Paris race. He wanted the... And I wish I remembered. He wanted the Paris spikes, the one that actually crossed the line in and won golden. And he emailed me. It was the right ask and I actually regret this but I said no. I said no. I should have given it to him or at least one and one or told him it was it and it wasn't. But he wanted those spikes and he deserved the spikes. This is like 22-year old me. You know I keep everything, right? So they are sacred to me too. And I was like "No, I wanna keep them." And I said no. And I... I think I keep repeating myself... I wish I'd said yes. It was the right thing. He should have had them because I've lost track of which ones they were. Because I have all of them. Well, you have a pair. But I didn't because they meant so much to me. I felt and I keep everything and I'm like, "I want those particular ones." But like decades ago, I don't remember which ones they later. So there's that.