Royal City resident Sharon Rowe's remarkable story of perseverance has earned her a spot in Rick Hansen 25th anniversary relay.
In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Rick Hansen's Man in Motion World Tour, the relay is retracing the Canadian portions of his original tour. Rowe has been selected to serve as one of 7,000 medal bearers on the route.
"It's amazing," said her foster mother, Ariadne Sawyer. "It is full circle."
When the Man in Motion tour came to British Columbia 25 years ago, Rowe was one of two residents selected to present a cheque to Hansen from residents living in the Gulf Islands.
"They called her a walking miracle," Sawyer explained. "They all took her under their wing. They had seen what she was when she first came and what she became."
Rowe, 38, was born with trisomy 13, a genetic disorder. As a child, it was thought she could not see, hear or talk, but that wasn't the case, and she's gone on to lead a full life.
"She never gives up," Sawyer said. "She keeps going no matter what challenges arrive."
Sawyer submitted a letter to relay organizers on Rowe's behalf but knew the chances were slim of being selected among the thousands of applications for spots in the relay.
"Your unique story of making a difference is creating positive change in the lives of others," said a letter Rowe received from the relay organizers. "Our team is excited to have you join us on the road as we retrace Rick's legendary route across Canada passing the Rick Hansen Medal from one person to the next."
Rowe will be carrying a medallion specially created for the relay on May 18 near Simon Fraser University in Burnaby.
Rowe has been inspired by Hansen's life story, so Sawyer has read her Rick Hansen: Man in Motion book several times through the years.
"He was sort of like a mentor in a way, through the book," Sawyer said. "For her to be chosen as a person, as someone who has made a difference, is so amazing. It couldn't be a happier ending."
While Rowe is thrilled to be participating in the Rick Hansen 25th anniversary relay, it's not the only exciting thing happening in her life. A series of stories she's dictated about Big Bessie, the HandyDART, is set to come out as an ebook.
"It's a labour of love," Sawyer said about the book. "Her first HandyDART story was dictated to me in 1999. It took me four hours to decipher. She has them all in her head which is amazing."
Sawyer is grateful that HandyDART officials have agreed to allow Rowe to use the name HandyDART in her book.
Rowe dictates some of her stories to Sawyer over coffee, so they're often written on paper napkins. Sawyer later types them and rereads them back to Rowe, who catches any errors.
"She is very tough about editing," Sawyer laughed. "We have 17 (stories) that are going in. We are looking for an illustrator at the moment. She has been wanting to have a book for so long."
The Big Bessie stories feature assorted plots, such as Big Bessie heading to Las Vegas for a holiday and helping humans deal with the Y2K bug (by driving over and squishing anything that appears to be a bug).
Until her book is published, Rowe continues to lead a busy life, which includes attending a day program at the Simon Fraser Society for Community Living's Simcoe Centre.
"She works in the kitchen when they are open," Sawyer said. "She is also a volunteer for World Poetry. She does paper flowers - last year she did 150. They have gone all over the world."
Not long after Sawyer immigrated to Canada from Costa Rica, she was working in Victoria when a social worker asked her if she'd ever considered being a foster parent. She knew of a four-or five-year-old girl who was in the hospital and needed a temporary foster placement.
"She came about 35 years ago for a month," Sawyer said. "It's been a long month."
While Rowe's current goal is to publish a book about Big Bessie, Sawyer said her life story would make a fine book.
"She is amazing," she said.