Success Stories

Djami Diallo: 2014 Success Story of the Year


By the time she was 13, Djami Diallo had escaped civil-war-ravaged Liberia with her family and immigrated to Canada. There was, however, one place that she never imagined she’d end up: on the top of a podium. Born with cerebral palsy and unable to walk more than a short distance, Djami grew up chasing after her sisters. Playing sports, however, was impossible.

All that changed when 13-year-old Djami and her twin sister came to a BC Wheelchair Sports Have a Go Day. The moment she tried a sports wheelchair, Djami was hooked.

“Up until that day, I’d only had a huge hospital wheelchair. It was hard to push myself around,” she said. “For the first time, I had the feeling of having more freedom in my wheelchair and I realized I don’t have to be limited in any way!”

Djami’s love of sport soon led her to wheelchair racing. “Racing is a very freeing feeling. You don’t feel any pain. You just go. It’s nice having the wind in your face or at your back.”

Djami acquired a racing wheelchair through BCWSA’s wheelchair loan program. We also arranged for her to work with a supportive coach, and provided her with financial assistance so that she could travel to tournaments and clinics. BC Wheelchair Sports Association has helped her develop the skills she needs to gain confidence not only in sport but in everyday life.

“If I’d never played wheelchair sports, I definitely wouldn’t have been as outgoing as I am now,” she said. “You have this sense of fear growing up as a child with a disability, so to see that I can play a sport and excel, that’s a big thing. I carry that with everything I do.”

This feeling of confidence is certainly paying off. At the 2014 Canadian National Championships, Djami won her first gold medal and set a personal best. Now, she’s set her sights on qualifying for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Her newfound confidence is also helping her earn a new set of wheels; she’s learning to drive.

Tomas Bourassa: 2013 Success Story of the Year

When Tomas lost the use of his legs in a bicycle accident when he was 10, his parents didn’t know what life in a wheelchair would hold for their son. While in a rehabilitation hospital, however, Tomas was introduced to wheelchair sports and fell in love with wheelchair tennis. 

Today, that little boy is now one of Canada’s fastest-rising wheelchair tennis stars. This year, he won a tournament in Burnaby against adult players, was a finalist in the top division of the Coquitlam open, and reached the finals in a junior doubles tournament in Hilton Head. He also traveled to California to participate in the Americas Junior Wheelchair Tennis Camp, which helped him refine his skills with junior athletes around the world. 

“Tomas has had an incredible year,” says his coach Steve Manley. “He’s made major progress on the court, but the real pleasure has been watching him transform into a confident young man. We expect big things from young Tomas in the coming seasons!”

Your donations helped fund Tomas’ participation in tournaments and camp, and provided him with equipment, coaching and court space. He has also had the opportunity to enjoy the social side of tennis and connect with his peers through our fun, themed tennis festivals. The results of all this, as you can see, have been life-changing for this young athlete.

Tristan Smyth: 2012 Success Story of the Year

This time last year, Tristan Smyth was in a hospital bed coping with the devastating effects of a spinal cord injury. Today, he’s a triple gold-medalist in wheelchair racing and a rising star in wheelchair basketball. The reasons for his success: his own determination and the BC Wheelchair Sports Association.

Tristan broke his back last year in a skateboarding accident. During his three-month rehabilitation at G.F. Strong, there was one thing on his mind: becoming active again.

“I had to find a way to stay fit, build confidence and feel accomplished,” he said. “The amount of opportunities that have opened up to me from playing wheelchair sports has been just awesome.”

Thanks to our “Bridging the Gap – Getting Physically Active” program, Tristan was introduced to wheelchair basketball and athletics. He became involved in our athletics program and used our wheelchair loan program to access an appropriate racing wheelchair. This August, less than eight months after his injury, Tristan won three gold medals at the 2011 Western Canada Summer Games. While Tristan’s ultimate dream is to represent Canada at the Paralympics, he’s also experiencing more immediate benefits.

“BC Wheelchair Sports has helped me immensely over the past year,” he said. “It’s probably the number one factor in my recovery. I’ve been able to meet people with a similar disability and learn from them how they’ve moved forward in life.”

Michelle's Story: 2011 Success Story of the Year

“Life can be forever changed in just a matter of minutes... the challenge is how we all handle the unexpected changes and how we move forward to be the best of who we are.”

Michelle Stilwell is no stranger to life-altering changes. After sustaining a spinal cord injury at 17, she adapted to her disability, got married, earned a degree in Science and was a member of the gold-medal winning women’s wheelchair basketball team in the 2000 Sydney, Australia Paralympics.

2001, however brought some of her biggest life changes yet. Not only did she give birth to son Kai and move to Vancouver Island, but complications of her spinal cord injury also forced her to retire from the sport she loved. Undaunted, she searched for a new form of physical activity that she could do in her small town while also raising a family. Wheelchair racing proved to be the answer.

“After retiring from wheelchair basketball, I still had the competitive drive and passion for sport,” she said. “Wheelchair racing worked with my family lifestyle and allowed me to train locally.”

Before Michelle could move forward to the next level in wheelchair racing, she needed specialized equipment and coaching support. BC Wheelchair Sports Association stepped in to help her acquire both.

“The first thing I needed was a racing wheelchair,” she said. “BC Wheelchair Sports loaned me a chair in the beginning years until I was able to access a grant that helped me purchase a racing wheelchair custom fit for me. Another key to my success was working with the right coach and thanks to BCWSA I began training with Peter Lawless who is considered one of the best coaches in Canada.”

Michelle’s passion and dedication soon came to fruition. She is the first quadriplegic woman to win gold medals in two different sports – wheelchair basketball and wheelchair racing. She has won an amazing four gold medals and one silver at the Paralympics within the past 4 years and has set several world records. She is an active motivational speaker in the community and role model for people with disabilities. In her talks she emphasizes perseverance, overcoming barriers, and chasing your dreams.

While much of her success comes from her own talent and drive, Michelle credits BC Wheelchair Sports with helping her achieve her dreams. “From the grassroots level up to the elite podium performances I have had, BCWSA has been there along the way to provide me with support for equipment, training and essential services,” she said. “If it were not for the assistance from BCWSA I may not have continued with racing.”

You can help.

There are hundreds of up-and-coming wheelchair athletes in British Columbia who have the same passion for sport as Tristan and Michelle. They too dream of participating in the sport both on the world stage and here at home. BCWSA works to reduce barriers for people with disabilities of all ages and abilities and help them to lead a healthy active lifestyle. With the cost of a single sports wheelchair reaching over $3000, the need for support has never been greater. Your donation today will help BC Wheelchair Sports purchase much-needed equipment, train coaches and help athletes achieve their dreams.

Please make your donation today.