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Castlegar's Kris Stanbra wins prestigious Courage to Come Back Award

Kyra Hoggan
By Kyra Hoggan
April 24th, 2014

Imagine this – you’re 28 years old, married just a year-and-a-half, with a terrific job and loving family and friends – you’ve got it all. You’re driving from Castlegar to Barrier to visit family, turn to negotiate an S-curve … and see a car driving straight toward you in your lane. You’re thrown from your vehicle, land on a rock about the size of a baseball, your back breaks.

Later, in the hospital, you’re told you’ll never walk again. In the blink of an eye, everything you know is changed forever.

Many of us would feel like giving up, but Castlegar’s Kris Stanbra decided to prove to the world (and herself) that, even when paralysed, she can really dig her heels in.

“The doctor told me I would never walk again, I could never have children and my husband was going to leave me because 92 per cent of spouses do,” said Stanbra, remembering the aftermath of a devastating car crash on April 17, 1980 that robbed of her mobility – but not her hope.

“I’m a the eternal optimist,” she said. “I did not dwell on this and say, ‘poor me’. I’m stubborn. I just focussed on getting better.”

Despite a very poor prognosis, Stanbra was only paralysed for three months – she took every opportunity she could for rehabilitation therapy and exercise to get back on her feet.

“They said I was a miracle healer – my spine actually fused (meaning she didn’t need rods inserted to strengthen it),” she said. “I’m very competitive. I don’t let anything stop me.”

Perhaps this is why Stanbra is the 2014 recipient of Coast Mental Health’s Courage to Come Back Award in the rehabilitation category.

The purpose of the award is to, “share stories of triumph over adversity with the broader community, to help individuals facing adversity to find the strength in themselves to overcome their obstacles and, finally, to help educate and improve understanding in our communities,” according to Coast Mental Health literature.

Certainly, Stanbra’s story applies. She has taught herself to walk again, and has busied herself with sports, coaching and volunteer work – namely, helping make Castlegar more accessible to people with disabilities.

“I’m not a pretty sight when I walk, but I can get from point A to point B,” she said.

And to add to the growing mountain of successes, Stanbra (now 62) and her husband Larry will be celebrating their 36 anniversary this coming July 8.

She credits much of her recovery to the love and faith of her support network – including the two sons the doctors told her she could never have (Clarke and Cole, now 31 and 29).

Stanbra did try to go back to work at her Telus job, but found the pain overwhelming – it was Rick Hansen’s 1987 stop in Castlegar during his world tour that galvanized her to begin advocating for disabled people in her community.

“He was the catalyst,” she said. “That was when the (then-mayor, Audrey Moore) formed our Disabled Needs Committee (the name was soon changed to Abilities Awareness Advisory Committee).

“I’m really, truly proud of our city and our city council for their commitment and work in developing accessibility throughout the community,” she said, adding she’s deeply honoured to receive such a prestigious award.

“These awards are so very, very important to give hope to the newly-injured, so they can see that people can go on and build rich, full lives.”

The awards gala will be held on May 8, after a dessert reception May 7 that MLA Katrine Conroy has promised to attend in Stanbra’s support.

Perhaps the more important accolade, however, came from her eldest son Clarke Stanbra, who posted the following as his Facebook status April 22, “I can’t begin to explain how proud I am of my mom. When I was growing up, I never thought our lives were different than other families (sic). Reading all these interviews and comments has reminded me that I did in fact grow up with a super mom. She’s done so much for her family and the community. This award is so well-deserved – way to go mom! I love you!

“Also sending out all my love and gratitude to Gail Oglow-Graham for pouring so much effort into nominating my mom for this award. It couldn’t have happened without you, Gail!

*Fun Fact: Stanbra comes by it honestly – her father, Johnny Clarke was named Castlegar’s Citizen of the Year in 1960, while her mother accepted the same honour in 2007.

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