Paige Norton may not think of herself as an inspiration, but others would beg to differ.
Norton, 18, was born with Down syndrome and by the age of four had undergone five heart surgeries. Despite health problems associated with her disability, she persevered and found a love of sports.
Now the Grade 12 student at Robert Bateman Secondary has been selected, along with 20 others from across North America, to receive the 2012 Yes I Can! Award from the Council for Exceptional Children.
"We were really proud," said her mom, Donna Bilous.
"We didn't expect her to win, especially an international award."
Of the seven categories of awards, including academics, arts and others, Norton was chosen for athletics, which is a perfect fit.
An accomplished international athlete, Norton has been involved in all sports since she was a youngster, trying to keep up with her older brothers.
"She was very determined. She's been like that since she was little," said Bilous.
There was no such word as 'no' for Norton.
"She thinks 'if I want to do it, I can do it'," said her mom.
"She's an inspiration within Special Olympics. We've seen her mature to be competitive. But she's humble in her sportsmanship."
Over the years, Norton has been active in track and field, swimming, soccer, golf, bowling, basketball and speed skating, for which she has won many medals and awards as a member of the Matsqui Blades and in Special O.
"I like team sports because I have friends and spend time with them," said Norton.
Her most recent and notable award was the British Columbia Special Olympics Athlete of the Year in 2011.
"For Paige, sports is about more than just winning," said Jennifer Tong, who nominated her for the CEC award.
"She tests the limits of what the human body and spirit can achieve in setting a good example for her peers to do their very best, build confidence and strive for good health. Proof that good things come in small packages, she is able to walk tall and with confidence."
While training for the Special Olympics and other athletic events, Norton still manages to make the honour and effort roll each term at school, as well as serve in her community, making presentations on behalf of the Special Olympics, as well as Zajac Ranch for Children, a summer camp for children with illnesses and disabilities.
Her special education teacher at Robert Bateman, Belinda Giles, originally nominated Norton for the B.C. Chapter of CEC award.
"Giles has been an advocate to mainstream [Paige] into many regular programs [in school] including drama, dance, strength and conditioning and P.E.," said Bilous.
"We wanted to give Paige every opportunity to fit into society."
The Yes I Can! Awards were developed to honour students with disabilities who have achieved extraordinary things, said CEC president Margaret McLaughlin in a release.
"Paige exemplifies the spirit of these awards with her hard work and perseverance."
- Norton, her family and teacher will travel to Colorado next week to receive her award at the Yes I Can! Award Ceremony on Friday, April 13 at the Hyatt Regency Convention Center in Denver, Colo., as part of the CEC 2012 Convention & Expo.