British Columbia has come too far, said Michelle Stilwell, not to keep going in the same direction.
It was a month and a half before election night, and Stilwell was a rookie candidate for the B.C. Liberals in Parksville-Qualicum.
“You’re giving me a funny look,” she said.
She was probably right – the News Bulletin reporter was likely listening to Stilwell’s election pitch with skepticism. It was right about the time of the governing party’s ‘ethnic quick wins’ scandal, and the Liberals had the approximate approval rating of sludge.
Yes, Parksville-Qualicum was one of the ‘safest’ centre-right ridings in the province. But in the big picture, this career move, this campaign, was going to be one of Stilwell’s toughest races yet, and that’s saying something for a woman who hurtles around a track at world-record speeds against broader-shouldered, bulgier-muscled competitors.
We know what happened. The wheelchair racer from Nanoose Bay, a four-time Paralympic gold medallist, lived up to her billing as a star candidate and received more than 50 per cent of the vote in the May election. She finished more than 3,500 votes ahead of NDP candidate Barry Avis and almost 10,000 votes ahead of David Coupland of the B.C. Conservatives.
Given Stilwell’s profile, there followed rumours she may be immediately handed a cabinet portfolio, but she was instead made parliamentary secretary for healthy living.
While fulfilling her new duties to her constituents, Stilwell remained a dedicated athlete.
She’s actually gotten faster than ever – she set new world records in both the 200-metre and 800m races in her division in 2013 and swept the world championships in Lyon, France, in July, winning gold in the 200m, 400m and 800m.
Stilwell was recently selected as the B.C. Athletics Female Athlete with a Disability of the Year for the eighth straight year.
“She’s an excellent role model for up and coming wheelchair athletes in B.C.,” said Gail Hamamoto, executive director of the B.C. Wheelchair Sports Association, in a press release. “Michelle shows no sign of slowing down.”
Not at all. Stilwell’s track diverged in 2013, and all she did was win every race she contested.