Highly decorated Michele Stilwell succeeds in sporting and political life

Among the great stories that defined Canada’s memorable experience as host country of the 2015 Parapan American Games, British Columbia’s Michelle Stilwell captured the gold medal in the women’s 100M T52 at CIBC Athletics Stadium. The T52 classification signifies a category for quadriplegics based on their functioning level. Athletes that are categorized in T51 possess less trunk control and reduced ability in their biceps and triceps.

Recording a time of 19.58 seconds, the 41-year old Stilwell finished one second behind the world record that she previously set in 2012. American competitors Kerry Morgan and Cassie Mitchell finished second and third, while fourth place belonged to Becky Richter of Saskatoon.

Having also raced in the finals of the Women’s 800M T53 event, Stilwell finished with a personal record of 2.22:90. Such admirable performances at the Parapan American Games solidified Stilwells legacy as Canada’s most decorated female paralympic athlete.

The greater victory for the University of Calgary-educated Stilwell was a gold medal victory on home soil. Complementing such an achievement is the fact that Stilwell captured a gold medal in women’s wheelchair basketball at the 2000 Paralympic Summer Games in Sydney, Australia. With both gold medals, Stilwell (who first become a quadriplegic at the age of 17) is the first Canadian female paralympic athlete to capture gold medals in two different summer sporting events.

Stilwell also enjoyed gold medal performances at the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Summer Games. At Beijing 2008, Stilwell enjoyed gold in the 100- and 200-meter wheelchair races. She would enjoy a p air of podium of finished in London 2012, gold in the 200-meter and silver in the 100-meter. Having also enjoyed gold medal triumphs at the 2006, 2011 and 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships, her greatest performance came in 2013, capturing gold in the 100-, 200- and 800-meter races, respectively.

In addition to her remarkable athletic career, Stilwell is also a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the riding of Parksville-Qualicum in the British Columbia provincial government. Elected on May 14, 2013, one of her first political duties included a stint as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health of Seniors.

Appointed to her own position as a Minister in BC Premier’s Christy Clark’s cabinet on February 2, 2015, she is responsible for the portfolio of Social Development and Social Innovation. Taking into account that she once worked on the BC Government’s 10 by 10 Challenge, an initiative to help provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities, Stilwell is an ideal and highly qualified individual to handle such a key position in the Cabinet. As a side note, her devotion to public service is boundless, as she also serves on the Treasury Board.

Prior to politics, Stilwell was a proud advocate for people with disabilities, while also performing duties as a motivational speaker. An ambassador for the Rick Hansen Foundation, another notable disabled athlete from British Columbia, her hard work culminated with an unprecedented honor in 2012. Stilwell made local history as the first person to receive Parksville’s Key to the City. In addition, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, a highly fitting honor. Whether it be debate, legislation, serving on committees or discussion with consultants, Stilwell’s work ethic is just as evident, resulting in a win-win situation for her constituents.

Tatiana Rafter joins growing number of Canadians with the Buffalo Beauts

One of the most talented players to have suited up for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, Tatiana Rafter continues her career as one of the increasing number of Canadian star players to join the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).

Along with Mercyhurst alum Shelby Bram, the two were signed on the same day by the Buffalo Beauts, their fourth and fifth signings this off-season.

Although Rafter and Bram represented a great pair of Manitoba-raised hockey heroes that could have provided the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno with great strides in their Clarkson Cup ambitions. Instead, they join Laurier alum Dawn Skeats, fresh off a scoring title in the EWHL, as Canadian stars ready to propel the Beauts towards the inaugural Isobel Cup.

Under the tutelage of elite coach Graham Thomas, Rafter became a game changer for the Thunderbirds, ushering in a new era of unprecedented glory for the program. Of note, Rafter was a key contributor to the Thunderbirds qualifying for the 2013 Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championships, part of the greatest single season turnaround in Canada West conference history.

Recognized with the first of her two Canada West Second Team All-Star nods, she would end a memorable 2013 as a member of Canada’s gold-medal winning roster in women’s ice hockey at the Winter Universiade. She would finish the event as one of Canada’s leading scorers, logging 15 points.
Heading into the 2013-14 Canada West women’s hockey season, Rafter recorded 38 points on the strength of a conference-high 20 goals to grab the conference scoring title. Not only did her efforts contribute to UBC enjoying their first 20-win season in program history, it culminated with recognition as the recipient of the 2014 Canada West Player of the Year Award.

Among some of the notable players that she competed with at UBC were the likes of international sports stars such as Amanda Asay and Danielle Dube. A two-sport star, Asay was a member of the Canadian women’s baseball team that captured the silver medal in the inaugural women’s baseball event held at the 2015 Pan American Games. Dube was also a part of Canadian women’s sporting history, competing in the first-ever women’s ice hockey tournament at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games.

Joined on the Beauts by the likes of two-time Winter Games silver medalist Brianne McLaughlin, there will be no shortage of star players that Rafter will call new teammates. Having contributed to the greatest chapter in UBC hockey history, the chance to make history with the incipient NWHL is one that she could not resist. Graduating with 116 points, plus a Second Team Canada West All-Star nod in 2015, Rafter is ready to continue her high scoring ways with the Beauts, while giving back to the community with charitable work.

Medal round at CBHA Nationals sees rivalries renewed and legends solidified

With one of Canada’s premier ball hockey cities, Ottawa, Ontario, serving as the venue for the 2015 edition of the Canadian Ball Hockey Association (CBHA) nationals, there was no shortage of excitement. Of note, the Vanier Mooseheads, one of the signature clubs in the Ottawa Vanier Women’s Ball Hockey League (OVWBHL) entered the event as the defending national champions.

Heading into the event, their biggest competition came in the form of two clubs; the Toronto Shamrocks, whom the Mooseheads defeated in overtime to capture the 2014 title, and the Ottawa Rebels, another dominant club in OVWBHL play. Also part of the nationals was a pair of provincial all-star teams, the British Columbia Benders and Team Manitoba, along with Atlantic Canada’s only representative, Newfoundland United.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the tournament was the fact that each club featured at least one member of the gold medal winning Canadian team at the 2015 World Street Hockey Championships in Zug, Switzerland. Melanie Jue and Silvia Traversa (who was competing in her tenth nationals) suited up for the Benders, while Manitoba featured the likes of Chantal Larocque and Jessie McCann.

Newfoundland United consisted of four Team Canada members (Kristen Cooze, April Drake, Amanda Kean and Dawn Tulk) while the Toronto Shamrocks featured Lexie Hoffmeyer. Of note, she was also part of the CWHL Toronto Furies’ Clarkson Cup championship team in 2014.

The two entries from the OVWBHL featured their own Team Canada superstars. Goaltender Nathalie Girouard and forward Elysia Desmier (who also competed at the Beantown Hockey Classic) suited up for the Mooseheads, while Alicia Blomberg donned the scarlet and black jersey of the Ottawa Rebels.

Despite both qualifying for the medal round, the Mooseheads and Rebels ended up competing for the bronze medal game. In the preliminary round play, the Rebels were first overall, one point ahead of second place Toronto. The Mooseheads were third while Newfoundland United was the only team with a losing record to advance.

Both squads experienced heartbreaking losses in the first games of the medal round. The Rebels had scored five goals against Newfoundland United in a dominant preliminary round victory. Unfortunately, such momentum could not be maintained. Prevailing in the biggest upset of the tournament, Newfoundland defeated the Rebels by a 2-1 mark in overtime.

Also allowing two goals in their loss was the Mooseheads. With 2014 Nationals MVP (and scoring champion) Jamie Lee Rattray moving from the Mooseheads to the Shamrocks, it altered the complexion of the event. Taking into account that she competes for the Brampton Thunder in the CWHL, it would prove to be a significant acquisition for the Shamrocks as she captured her second straight scoring championship.

In the 2-0 shutout victory against the Mooseheads, which was also the third shutout for Shamrocks goaltender Kristy Zamora, the heroics belonged to Jenny Brine. Scoring both goals in the victory, Brine extended her legacy as one of Canada’s greatest ball hockey players. As a side note, Brine has won three medals in world championship play with Team Canada, including two gold medal games.

The battle for the bronze featured two OVWBHL squads taking to the court. Adding to the intrigue was the fact that two members of the Mooseheads’ 2014 National Championship team were now part of the Rebels roster. Fannie Desforges, who was also the MVP of the 2013 ISBHF Worlds, and the first woman to win the Red Bull Crashed Ice world championship, was joined by Jessica O’Grady. Currently in a managerial capacity with the CWHL, O’Grady scored the gold-medal clinching goal in 2014 (and also played with Desforges on Team Canada 2013).

Former St. Lawrence Skating Saints superstar (and CIS national champion with McGill) Chelsea Grills opened the scoring in the contest. Her first period goal would prove to be the bronze medal clinching goal as the match was a defensive stalemate throughout, testament to the strong play (and talent) on both sides.

As the Cinderella team at the CBHA Nationals, Newfoundland United was hoping to emerge from the CBHA Nationals with the gold medal. Certainly an emotional favorite among the fans in attendance, the squad was guaranteed no worse than a silver medal, ensuring that Newfoundland enjoyed a podium finish with its men’s and women’s teams.

Carolyne Prevost, making her CBHA Nationals debut, scored the opening goal early in the first period. Despite a four-minute power play opportunity shortly after her goal, Newfoundland goaltender Ayla Frank was superb.

Playing with confidence and bravura, Frank constantly frustrated the Shamrocks offense, preventing them from adding to their lead.

Eventually, Newfoundland United would solve Kristy Zamora, who was riding a solid shutout streak of three periods in elimination play. April Drake, one of the most promising young talents in Canadian ball hockey, tucked a rebound past Zamora as the crowd roared with excitement.

Despite the tie score, the Shamrocks showed no signs of panic. Although the pace of the game was back and forth, with both sides trying to score, the goaltending was so strong on both sides, that neither team could take advantage of the four power play opportunities in the second.

With both clubs heading into overtime, Newfoundland must have believed that they were a team of destiny. Shamrocks co-founder Meagan Aarts was called for a penalty with only two seconds remaining in the second period. Enjoying a four-minute long power play in overtime, the momentum seemed to be on Newfoundland’s side, as there were murmurs in the stands of a possible upset.

Instead, it was the Shamrocks that prevailed as Jenny Brine managed to sneak the ball past Frank for the gold-medal clinching goal. Having also scored the game-winning goal in the first match of elimination round play, it was part of a legendary performance for Brine that also saw her rank second in the scoring race during the preliminary round.

Canadian women provide golden performance in the pool at 2015 Para Pan Am Games

As the host country for the 2015 Para Pan Am Games, Toronto was treated to a remarkable display of swimming supremacy as Canada’s women went on to dominate in the pool. A total of 14 gold medals were won by six different Canadian female swimmers, capturing the hearts and minds of sports fans throughout Canada.

On August 9, Morgan Bird set a winning tone for the remainder of the week as she earned the gold medal in the Women’s 400m Freestyle S8(S7-8) along with the Women’s 50m Freestyle S8.

The following day, Aurelie Rivard would establish herself as the superstar of the Para Pan Am Games. Of note, the gold medal in the Women’s 100m Butterfly S10(S8-10) and the Women’s 50m Freestyle S10 would prove to be the first two among five gold medal triumphs.

Rivard’s golden ways continued as she obtained the gold in the Women’s 100m Backstroke S10. She would continue to accumulate gold in Women’s 400m Freestyle S10 and Women’s 200m IM SM10(SM9-10)

In addition, Tess Routliffe would prove to be just as remarkable in the pool. With four gold medals, she was one short of tying Rivard for the lead. She began her quest for gold on August 10 with the best time in the Women’s 50m Freestyle S7. On August, she once again finished on top with the best time in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke SB7. On the same day, she would capture gold
in the Women’s 100m Freestyle S7. The following day, she earned the gold in the Women’s 100m Backstroke S7

Other Canadian swimmers earning gold at the Para Pan Am Games were Katarina Roxon, victorious in the finals of the Women’s 100m Breaststroke SB8. Justine Morrier captured gold in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke SB14 on August 12 while Sarah Mehain would add to Canada’s remarkable gold medal haul with gold in the Women’s 50m Butterfly S7(S6-7) on August 13.

Sam Faber on the ground floor of another New England hockey revolution

As the NWHL becomes the first professional hockey league for women in the United States, there is a feeling of relevance with the on-ice involvement of veteran star forward Sam Faber. One of the first players to sign with the Connecticut Whale, she is part of a new era of promise for the hockey-mad state. On the momentum of strong women’s hockey programs at the NCAA level such as Storrs’ UConn Huskies, New Haven’s Yale Bulldogs and Hamden’s Connecticut Bobcats, Faber shall be the cornerstone of an offense looking to capture the inaugural Isobel Cup.

Raised in Mount Sinai, New York, Faber’s first brush with New England women’s hockey came as a member of the University of New Hampshire’s Huskies. With an astounding 51 points in her freshman season, she would compile 189 points (on the strength of 112 assists) and an astonishing 23 game winning goals during her distinguished NCAA career. In addition, she would skate with the US National Team in a gold medal effort at the 2008 IIHF Women’s Worlds.

Perhaps an element of greater importance may be her experience at the professional level in New England women’s hockey. Of note, the Whale does not reflect her first sojourn into pro hockey. When the Boston Blades became the first American-based in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, Faber was one of the club’s charter members.

Playing alongside the likes of CWHL co-founder Mandy Cronin, All-World blueliners Caitlin Cahow and Angela Ruggiero, along with current Boston Pride GM Hayley Moore plus Huskies leading scorer Jaclyn Hawkins, Faber was part of a remarkable chapter in American women’s hockey.

During that inaugural Blades season (2010-11), Faber brought an offensive flair and playmaking ability that resulted in finishing said season as the Blades scoring leader. Although Montreal’s Caroline Ouellette captured the scoring title that season, Faber’s 30 points helped propel the Blades into the postseason, simultaneously demonstrating that there was a market in the United States for professional women’s hockey. As a side note, she ranked second to Julie Chu that season among American-born scoring leaders in CWHL play.

Faber’s first career point with the Blades came in their inaugural game. Along with Karen Thatcher, both would earn the assists on Jessica Koizumi’s third period goal, the first in Blades franchise history, part of a 3-0 win against the Burlington Barracudas. The following day, Faber would contribute 4 points, including her first career goal with the Blades, sweeping the Barracudas.

Accumulating at least one point in 15 games played, Faber also registered eight multi-point efforts. Her finest single-game performance was a five-point output which included her first career hat trick in a 6-5 win against eventual Clarkson Cup champions Montreal on January 30, 2011. Earlier that season, Montreal would provide another memorable moment for Faber.

Just six days before Christmas, the Blades did more than just spoil Montreal’s bid for an undefeated season. Fighting back from a 2-0 deficit, Faber would score Boston’s first goal of the game, signifying a shift in momentum. Ruggiero would score the dramatic game-winning tally in overtime while Cronin made an astounding 74 saves in one of the greatest goaltending performances in league history.

Such experience shall place Faber into a key leadership position with the Whale this season, as she also holds the unique distinction of being the first player signed in franchise history. Taking into account that former Blades teammate (and two-time Clarkson Cup champion) Jessica Koizumi shall be joining her on the Whale, it only adds to the veteran impact that should contribute to a fundamentally sound game on the ice. As a side note, both have also worked as coaches, with Koizumi serving on the Yale Bulldogs staff and Faber with the Connecticut Jr. Rangers.

Among the crop of youthful free agents that should benefit most positively from their leadership includes the likes of Quinnipiac grads such as Shiann Darkangelo and Kelly Babstock, plus Clarkson Cup champion Kaleigh Fratkin. The younger players shall definitely reciprocate as they bring enthusiasm and high energy, strong motivational factors for Faber.

Having last played during the Blades inaugural season, Faber has remained in the game off the ice as the Chelsea Piers Youth Hockey Director in Stamford, Connecticut. Among her accomplishments with Chelsea Piers includes the fact that she oversees the largest Mite League program in the state. The chance to return to the rink for the first time since 2011 shall serve as an opportunity to inspire the young players that have passed through Chelsea Piers. Being part of the NWHL’s inaugural season as a member of the Connecticut Whale presents Faber (and Koizumi) with the rare opportunity to make history twice in New England women’s hockey.

Marilyn Korzekwa touches all three provinces in remarkable swim of Northumberland Strait

Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, fifty-eight-year-old Marilyn Korzekwa managed to swim across the Northumberland Strait and back again. In accomplishing this, she managed to touch all three Maritime provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Her accomplishments are reminiscent of another successful middle-aged female swimmer, Diana Nyad, who swam from Cuba to Florida.

The 47-kilometre swim lasted 17 hours, beginning off the Amherst Shore of Nova Scotia. Swimming towards Prince Edward Island, the famous Confederation Bridge would present her with turbulence. Compounding such woes was the fact that water temperatures in Baie Verte were warm. Taking into account that jellyfish reside in warmer waters, the result was being stung over 50 times in her face, legs and arms.

Accompanied by a kayak and a boat, five crew members spent a week helping her to prepare for this odyssey. Enduring high winds, along with an overnight rainstorm and waves over a meter high in numerous directions, Korzekwa felt the urge to quit on more than one occasion. Yet, she refused as a way to inspire the patients of her psychiatry practice.

Of note, she reached New Brunswick near noon the following day although it was a challenging journey. Near Cape Tormentine, she endured lower than expected water temperature, resulting in close to frigid conditions. Swimming with an injured shoulder, it was testament to her toughness.

Although she trained for a 24-hour long swim, the conditions would not permit her to attempt a double-crossing of the Northumberland Strait. Next year, she plans to cross the Cook Strait in New Zealand, which would add to an impressive list of bodies of water that she has crossed. Other bodies of water on such a glorious list include Key West, Lake Ontario, plus the Triple Crown, consisting of the English Channel, the Catalina Strait, along with the Strait of San Pedro and Manhattan Island.

Stephanie Savoie setting the standard as one of the world’s finest baseball catchers

Following a remarkable performance at 2015 edition of the Pan Am Games, there is no question that Stephanie Savoie has established herself as the world’s finest at her position. Competing as the starting catcher for the Canadian national women’s baseball team, she was one of the most consistent performers in a silver medal outcome.

Hailing from Drummondville, Quebec, she was one of three Quebec-born players on the Canadian roster at the Games. Joined by pitchers Jessica Berube and Vanessa Riopel, the three have also been teammates for Team Quebec at the Canadian Senior Women’s National Invitation.

Having first suited up for the national team in 2007, she enjoyed a silver medal at the 2008 IBAF Women’s World Cup. Recognized as Team Canada’s Most Valuable Player in 2014, in which Savoie was also a finalist for the Tip O’Neill Award (recognizing Canada’s baseball player of the year), she has blossomed into an exceptional talent.

A vocal leader, able to encourage while setting a positive example highlighted by her strong work ethic, Savoie is one of the most important members of Canada’s roster. Acknowledging that the role of the catcher results in serving as a leader, she also enjoys the mental and strategic aspects of baseball, in which she shines as a defensive player. Occasionally showing flashes of power at the plate (she hit .520 at the 2012 IBAF World Cup), Savoie’s team-first approach provides a solid presence for a Canadian team that ranks fourth among the world’s competing women’s baseball teams.

Competing in all six of Canada’s contests at the Games, she ranked second only to second baseman Nicole Luchanski in at-bats with 21. In addition, she was one of only four Canadian competitors to log an extra base hit. Her .286 batting average was complemented by six hits and two runs.

Statistically, Savoie led all Canadian catchers in putouts at the Pan Am Games, contributing to the team’s solid .935 fielding percentage, while topping all catchers in Games competition with 8 base runners caught stealing. This improves on her impressive total of 6 base runners caught stealing at the 2014 IBAF World Cup, which also topped all catchers.