Then a car accident just two months before her Grade 12 graduation changed everything. Her back was broken. Her spine was 98% severed. She would never be able to run again.
Colette Bourgonje had always been a spirited girl with boundless energy and a will to succeed. Within a short time, she was adjusting to her new circumstances as a paraplegic and pursuing different dreams. She enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan and in 1984, she became the first disabled student to graduate from the school’s College of Physical Education and the first female student in a wheelchair to graduate in Physical Education from any Canadian university. Not satisfied with just one degree, Colette pursued a Bachelor of Education and graduated as a teacher a short time later.
She discovered the world of wheelchair racing and quickly excelled at that sport. Cross-country sit-skiing was next on her list of challenges, and Colette was soon a world-class athlete in that sport as well. While working as an elementary school teacher in Saskatoon part-time, Colette continued to pursue her love of sports. In 1992, at age 30, she competed in her first Paralympic Games as a cross-country sit-skier. A few months later, she competed in her second Paralympic Games, as a wheelchair racer.
Since then, Colette Bourgonje has become one of Canada's most successful disabled athletes. As a teacher and world-class competitor, she is a role model and an inspiration. She put her teaching career on hold to work towards her ninth Paralympic Games in 2010. And as usual, Colette triumphed against the odds.
Colette Bourgonje competing at the 2010 Paralympic Games in Whistler.
Mary Harelkin Bishop is a Saskatoon teacher who has been so inspired by Colette Bourgonje’s triumphs and struggles that she wrote Colette’s story to honour her perseverance, dedication and optimistic spirit.
Mary Harelkin Bishop signing books with Colette Bourgonje at the launch of Moving Forward, Sask Pavilion, 2010 Games.
Paralympian Colette Bourgonje (centre) happily shares her 2010 Games bronze and silver medals with Moving Forward publisher Deana Driver (left) and author Mary Harelkin Bishop (right).