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Accomplished Paralympian wins seat in B.C. legislature

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Michelle Stilwell, with her husband Mark behind her and her son Kai, 11, in front of her. Stilwell was elected MLA for the B.C. Liberal party in the Parksville-Qualicum riding.

PHOTO: WENDY MAURER Enlarge Image

Michelle Stilwell, with her husband Mark behind her and her son Kai, 11, in front of her. Stilwell was elected MLA for the B.C. Liberal party in the Parksville-Qualicum riding.

WINNIPEG native Michelle Stilwell is shining on another podium.

A Paralympian gold-medallist wheelchair racer who holds both world and Paralympic records, Stilwell is now an elected government official in British Columbia.

Stilwell, who lives in Parksville, is the Liberal MLA for the Parksville-Qualicum constituency after winning the seat in the B.C. provincial election Tuesday.

She was declared the winner about 90 minutes after the polls closed, beating out the NDP's Barry Avis and David Coupland of the Conservatives. Stilwell took almost half of the vote.

"For me, it's pretty exciting and I'm honoured and privileged that the residents of Parksville/Qualicum/Nanaimo support me and believe in me to go to Victoria as their voice," Stilwell, 38, said in a telephone interview with the Free Press. She said she ran her campaign using the morals and values with which she was raised.

"I stuck true to the things my mother and father taught me that are important, like working hard, being responsible for yourself and saving your money and spending responsibly. Those are the things that I believe government needs to be responsible for as well."

She said her husband of 15 years, Mark, and their son Kai, 11, were thrilled with her win.

"Kai was jumping up and down (saying) 'Mom got elected, Mom got elected!' They were really excited," she said. "My husband is very supportive but a little shocked, kind of like, 'Wow, our life is going to be different now.' It's a great thing and it's the right thing for our province."

The world already knows Stilwell as a decorated Paralympian wheelchair sprinter who is the only female wheelchair athlete to win gold in two separate Paralympic summer sport events. She won gold in wheelchair basketball at Sydney in 2000 and in wheelchair racing, she won double gold at Beijing in 2008 and gold at London in 2012.

Stilwell's parents, Heinz and Alice Bauknecht of Winnipeg, spent most of Wednesday morning taking calls from friends and family sharing their joy in the newest victory by their youngest child.

"She can accomplish just about anything," Heinz said, proudly. "She's so determined. If she wants to prove something, she can do it, and that's exactly what she did this time again."

Stilwell became a quadriplegic in 1992, just three weeks before graduation from River East Collegiate. She was riding piggy-back on a friend's back going down basement stairs, fell backward and hit her neck on a stair. She moved to Calgary in 1997 with Mark, where she trained with the national wheelchair basketball team and earned a psychology degree from the University of Calgary. After her basketball career ended for health reasons, she had her son in 2001 and the family moved to B.C. where she began racing in 2005.

"If you come down to it, we're going back 20 years now, we never thought she would accomplish these things," Heinz said. "But she never complained. She goes ahead with it. I haven't ever heard her complaining about anything. She just sets herself a goal and she goes for it, and that's it. So she's quite an amazing young woman."

Stilwell said she will race in the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships, July 20-29 in France, but is not looking beyond that event.

"That is a commitment that I made before I stepped forward to run for MLA," she said. "Healthy, active living will always be a part of my life."

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 16, 2013 A10

History

Updated on Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 8:54 AM CDT: adds photo

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