And the Award Goes to . . .

Stephanie Nickel and Deb Willows

Several years ago I connected with Paralympian Deb Willows. Deb had long wanted to write her story. She had written a number of shorter pieces, but an entire manuscript was just too much to type by mouth.

Deb had been praying that God would send along a Christian woman who could help her tell her story—and God chose to introduce us through a mutual friend. (And I learned about creative nonfiction through another friend.) Isn’t it amazing how the Lord works these things out?

When I met Deb, I was working as a personal trainer and didn’t have much time to devote to writing. When I asked her about a deadline, she said, “Anytime within the next ten years.” (Just a hint . . . it’s probably best not to give an author ten years to complete a project; she just might take you up on it.) While it didn’t take quite a decade to get from first draft to published book, it did take several years.

When Larry Willard of Castle Quay Books offered to publish Living Beyond My Circumstances, we were thrilled. After the typical back and forth and some unexpected delays, the book was released in January 2015.

When the shortlist came out for The Word Awards 2015, I admit I checked and double checked to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. But there it was: Deb’s memoir, which she insists on calling “our book,” under the Life Stories category. When we’d chat before the awards gala, she would tease me, saying, “It’s still there.”

Deb is a gem, definitely one of my heroes. To me, the friendship that developed is one of the greatest privileges of this whole project. And it was also a privilege to attend the gala with Deb, her folks, and two of her dear friends. As the saying goes, “It really was an honour just to be nominated.”

And it blew us away when we heard this excerpt, which meant we had won in our category:

“See what my daughter won?”

The patrons looked up from their Big Macs and McNuggets to see what all the fuss was about. We were in New York and earlier that day I’d set a world record swimming the 25m freestyle. My dad was grinning from ear to ear. And while my cheeks were burning, I was too. Even the cashier got in on the fun.

“Would it be okay if I took the medal to the kitchen so the rest of the staff can see it?”

“Sure,” I said.

When I’d graduated from high school, I prayed, “God, please don’t let me lead a boring life.” Was I in for an amazing adventure!

Deb has lived a remarkable life—and continues to do so. She considers cerebral palsy only “a slight setback.” She has been involved in many firsts and has had many dreams come true. Writing her memoirs and winning the award are the two most recent. Living Beyond My Circumstances is a book for anyone who wants to “go for the gold.”

And by the way, we are getting together at the end of October to discuss writing a follow-up book.

Contributed by Stephanie Nickel, CES writer and editor

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