In celebration of Black History Month at Centennial College’s East York campus, Canadian athlete and broadcast journalist Perdita Felicien spoke to students there on Feb. 12.
Felicien, born and raised in Pickering, is a two-time former Olympic hurdler and was the first female Canadian athlete to win gold at the World Championship in Athletics in Paris in 2003.
“I’m literally halfway through [the victory lap] before someone dusts off a Canadian flag and gets it to me,” she said.
Felicien spoke in detail about her rapid rise to fame after her gold-medal win, at only 22 years old.
“The trajectory that I was on would probably take the average athlete eight years to do. I did it in three years. It was crazy,” she said.
After her win, she got the cover of Time and Maclean’s magazines, several national billboards, her own shoe line and even the cover of a Cheerios box.
She said that as quickly as she was at her highest high in Paris, she fell to her lowest low the following year in Athens when she hit a hurdler in the lane beside her and fell during the Olympic event final.
She made it to the Olympics again in 2008 in Beijing but could not compete due to a foot injury.
She told Centennial’s students that, despite both setbacks, she kept moving forward.
“I want to be the author of the rest of my career,” she said. “Don’t let one moment define you — define it.”
She eventually went on to win six other international medals during her 10-year career as a top-ranking hurdler and still holds the Canadian national hurdling record.
Felicien retired from sports in 2013, graduated from Seneca College’s broadcasting program and currently works for CHCH in Hamilton as an on-camera reporter.
She offered students some reporting and interviewing tips, specifically when it comes to covering athletes.
“Athletes are like artists. They’re very sensitive about their craft. Don’t [criticize] their performance unless you’re their coach,” she said.
Felicien is also a spokesperson for the upcoming Pan Am and Parapan American Games and said that the games are ripe with opportunity for journalism students, like those at Centennial College.
“Volunteering, freelancing your time, pitching stories; there’s so much than you can do,” she said.