Par­a­lympic medal­list speaks to new grads

Regina Leader-Post - - News - By ANNE KYLE Leader-Post

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).

TROY FLEECE/Leader-Post

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.

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