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New West athlete remembered for her zest for life

Shannon Elmer is among a select group of athletes to participate in five sports in her senior year

A young woman who inspired others in sports and in life passed away peacefully in her sleep five years after being seriously injured while snowboarding.

Shannon Elmer died in her sleep on Dec. 29, five days before her 36th birthday. Elmer graduated from New Westminster Secondary School in 2003, where she was named an Outstanding Athlete every year from Grade 8 to 12. She’s among a select number of students to have played five sports in her varsity (senior) year.

“She played volleyball, basketball, soccer, track and field, and cross-country,” said Ken Elmer, Shannon’s father. “She went on to get her degree in teaching at UBC on a (track and field) scholarship.”

Staff in New Westminster Secondary School’s athletics department told the Record Elmer was “an amazing young lady who loved to play and compete.”

At university, Elmer was a starting/scoring member of the cross-country team in every meet during her five years at UBC. Other sporting accomplishments included finishing sixth in the Sun Run three times, running in the North American/Central American Championships in the Dominican Republic and competing in the World Mountain Running Championship in Turkey.

In 2010, Elmer auditioned for Wipeout, ultimately finishing fifth out of the 20 competitors who competed in the reality show over a week in Buenos Aires.

Elmer was an accomplished snowboarder who liked to take on the toughest runs at Whistler and Blackcomb. While standing on the side of a run at Blackcomb in April 2015, an out-of-control skier crashed into her, leaving her with a broken back.

Fighting spirit

Elmer, who wasn’t expected to live through that first night, spent several weeks fighting for her life in ICU and was later transferred to GF Strong for rehabilitation, having been left a quadriplegic in the accident. Following her recovery, she moved into the condo she’d purchased prior to the accident, which had to be renovated to be wheelchair accessible, and returned to teaching kindergarten and Grade 1 students.

“She loved it. She just loved it. The kids loved her,” Elmer said. “To see a teacher in a wheelchair doing what she was doing was pretty motivating to a lot of the little kids. She would start them with a wheelchair lesson when she was substituting because they wanted to know what this did, what happened.”

Care aids visited Elmer each morning to get her ready for the day and then again at night to put her to bed.

“She taught in the afternoons,” Elmer said. “She got contracts with the Vancouver school board three years in a row.”

Because of concerns about the risk of contracting COVID-19 when taking public transit to work, Elmer didn’t return to the classroom in September. In the weeks before her death, she enjoyed a virtual Christmas get-together with friends on Zoom and a quiet Christmas dinner with her immediate family.

According to Elmer, Shannon had experienced some health issues over the last three or four years, including pneumonia, and it’s suspected her death was the result of the ongoing stress of various ailments on her body.

A couple of days after what would have been Elmer’s 36th birthday, friends took  part in a 20-vehicle drive-by of her family’s Queen’s Park home to pay tribute to the woman who had a zest for life. Elmer’s family takes some comfort in knowing that her upbeat and positive personality made an impact on the lives of many people she encountered in her short life.

“It’s very sad,” Elmer says, “but she had so many friends. She really made a difference.”