Perdita Felicien was a 10-time national champion, a two-time Olympian and became the first Canadian woman to win a gold medal at a world championships.
She now works as a sports broadcaster and is part of CBC’s team covering the Olympics. She was also a past Canada Reads panellist, defending Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald in 2008.
Felicien’s athletic dreams came true, but her early life was tough. Her mother came to Canada from St. Lucia to work for a wealthy white family.
She arrived poor, uneducated and not knowing the language or the culture. Together, the family endured poverty, domestic violence and homelessness.
But she cared for her family, and supported her youngest daughter’s athletic dreams. Felicien is finally sharing her story in the memoir My Mother’s Daughter.
My Mother’s Daughter will be published on April 14, 2020.
You can read an excerpt from the book below.
Olympic Games, Athens
I know I am supposed to be here, this is more than a race to me.
I know she is watching the baby she chose not to throw away.
Maybe this will finally make her see that everything that happened before tonight was worth it. That she is worth it, that I am worth it, and so are all the other mothers and children like us.
The eight of us had only a few moments left to warm up over the hurdles before we would be introduced to the thousands in the Olympic Stadium. It was loud before the start of the 100 metres hurdles final. People were shouting, and flags from around the world were being waved in the air by hopeful fans. Everything happened in slow motion, as if I were in a trance. The officials putting down hurdles, then scurrying out of our way, teammates watching nearby from the stands with Canadian flags wrapped around their shoulders, the other runners grunting and slapping their thick quads into submission — or was it an act of intimidation? None of us finalists made eye contact. It was as though the others were just bodies floating about. But we could see the tension around the corners of our mouths; our faces mean, expressionless corks that prevented all our emotions from spilling out.
Because nothing can replicate the biggest day of our lives. No imagining can ever be real enough.– Perdita Felicien
I walked back to my lane marker after practising a start and knew there was nothing left to do. I was ready. Every cell in my body felt electric, as if I could shock the life out of anything I touched. I pulled in a deep breath, held it for five thumping heartbeats, then let it rush out of me with any microscopic remnants of doubt. I enjoyed this feeling and this moment despite the magnitude of it. I’d never felt anything so encompassing, so kinetic. I recognized it as that perfect edge. The one all of us athletes try to recreate hundreds of times in practice, in our dreams, in our journals — but never can. Because nothing can replicate the biggest day of our lives. No imagining can ever be real enough.
The fuzzy haze I saw before big races blurred everything: the crowd, the outside lanes, Melissa the American to my left, and Irina the Russian to my right. Everything but my ten waist-high barriers, out in front, which were crisp and clear. The starter commanded us to take our marks, and the customary ritual began as we made our way into our blocks.
Think of all the work you’ve done, Perdita. You can do this.
We were two Americans, two Russians, one Jamaican, a Ukrainian and two Canadians. The fastest and most fearless women left standing in the world. I was the world champion and the youngest among us, unbeaten in a string of races leading up to the Olympics, including my heat and semifinal rounds in Athens. Even though I had welcomed the eyes of my entire country on me and understood I was the favourite, remarkably I had arrived at the start line carrying only the weight of my own expectations. “If you want it, you can’t be afraid to go for it” is a mantra a hurdler must adopt before even starting her climb to the top of the world.
“Set!” the starter yelled. I raised my hips. The riotous crowd was suddenly silent, I was alone, and my Olympic dream was unfolding.
From My Mother’s Daughter by Perdita Felicien ©2020. Published by Doubleday Canada.
Originally published on the CBC Website.