‘I never talked about it and I am now:’ Perdita Felicien on growing up in poverty

Aug 21, 2019

Everyone saw Perdita Felicien fall.

The two-time world track and field champion was the favourite to win gold in the women’s hurdles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, making what happened all the more shocking.

Felicien tripped over the first hurdle and fell to the ground. It was her last Olympic appearance.

While Canadians saw Felicien’s fall on highlight reels from coast-to-coast, what they didn’t see is Felicien call her mother in the wake of that heartbreaking moment.

They also didn’t hear the advice Cathy Browne offered her daughter.

Two-time Canadian World Champion Perdita Felicien opens up about growing up poor and why as an adult, she’s found strength in her mother’s wisdom. 5:44

“When I got on the phone with my mother, she said to me, in the belly of this Greek stadium, ‘you are the gold,” Felicien said. “She also told me, ‘you are not the first person to live through this trial.”

Those words were something Felicien heard a lot as a child, growing up in poverty, living in women’s shelters or other people’s homes.  Felicien says she and her four siblings escaped a life of domestic abuse.

It’s something Felicien admits she never talked about until now.

Mission Services London staff and volunteers enlisted the star power Canadian track star Perdita Felicien (left) to help collect school supplies for children at the Rotholme Women’s and Family Shelter. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“I’ve never talked about it and I am now,” she said. “There’s a stigma of women and families, especially men needing help.”

“I’m here to tell you there’s no shame in that. It not necessarily who you were back then, it only matters who you become.”

Felicien made the comments Wednesday while using her star power to draw attention to Mission Services London. The local charity enlisted her help, along with a private radio station, to collect school items for children at the Rotholme Women’s & Family Shelter.

It’s a cause Felicien was eager to lend her name to, considering she remembers staying at women’s shelters when she was a seven-year-old girl.

“I’ve lived this experience,” she said. “Because there was a place like Mission Services London in my hometown of Oshawa, it made a difference in my life.”

“If you can help one person, one Perdita, the benefits of that ripple out.”

Originally published on the CBC Website.