Paralympic medallist speaks to new grads
Paralympic gold medallist Lisa Franks joined the ranks of royalty and the province’s political elite on Saturday when the University of Regina awarded her an honorary doctor of laws degree at its fall convocation ceremony.
Previous recipients of the honorary doctorate include: Princess Anne, former Saskatchewan premiers Tommy Douglas, Allan Blakeney and Roy Romanow, and former Saskatchewan Lt.-Gov. Lynda Haverstock.
The degree was bestowed in recognition of Franks’ accomplishments as a worldclass athlete and her ability to overcome adversity and achieve her dreams as a Paralympic star.
In 1996, Franks, a promising high school basketball player, was stricken with a rare condition known as an arteriovenous malformation which damaged her spinal cord and left her paralyzed and a quadriplegic.
“That was probably one of the defining moments of my life. My life changed drastically after that,’’ Franks said.
“It is hard enough just being a teen, but then you are thrown that curve ball and you actually have to do a lot of self-discovery. You have to remain positive and figure out who you are and what your strengths are.’’
Forced to take a retrospective look at her life growing up in Moose Jaw, Franks said she realized she was still the same person, who loved being active and had a competitive spirit. The joy of competing in wheelchair sport and being active was the motivation that helped the 14-year-old regain some normalcy in her life, which had been turned upside down. Franks regained control of her upper body through rehab.
She still had big dreams, only now — after accepting her life’s circumstances — Franks had to change how she went about achieving those dreams. With the support and encouragement of her parents and her competitive track coach, fellow paralympic gold medalist Clayton Gerein, those dreams became a reality.
“My first gold medal at a Paralympic Games was a pivotal moment in my life. I was pretty young and had that wide-eyed wonder. To finally accomplish what I had dreamed of since I was four years old was a life changing event — just to be up on that podium representing Saskatchewan, Moose Jaw and Canada — because it was a tough road to reach. It was an emotional experience to see that Canadian flag being raised and having the national anthem played in the Olympic Stadium.’’
At the age of 18, Franks won five gold medals and a silver in wheelchair athletics at the Sydney, Australia, 2000 Paralympic Games. She would add two more gold medals to her collection at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games.
Before she retired from track in 2006, Franks would set world records in the 100-, 200-, 400-, 800-, 1500-, 5000-metre and marathon wheelchair races.
In 2006, Franks once again made history. An accomplished basketball player, she became the first woman from Saskatchewan to be named to the Canadian wheelchair basketball team.
That year represented a major transition for her. Franks graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in mechanical engineering, got a job, made the basketball team and won a gold medal at the World Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Amsterdam.
Franks’ message to the 549 students convocating on Saturday was simple: “Dream big and never let anything deter you from achieving those dreams.”
The university recognized a number of graduates for outstanding academic performance. Veldon Coburn, who received his master of arts degree in political science, was presented with the President’s Distinguished Graduate Student Award, while Luther College graduate Kristy Bergman, who graduated with a bachelor of arts honours degree with high honours in international studies, won the President’s Medal and the university prize for arts.
Other award winners were: Christine Bilinski (Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation), Qianru Guo (business administration), Brian Peever (engineering and applied science), John Hampton (fine arts), Elyse Greenberg (kinesiology and health studies), Colin Svingen (science) and Patricia Ince (social work).
Paralympic medallist Lisa Franks was awarded an honorary doctor of laws on Saturday at the University of Regina’s fall convocation at the Conexus Arts Centre.