Shelley Pacholok was named a Capital News’ Community Leader of the Year in the courage category at the 4th Annual Kelowna Capital News Community Leader Awards, held at Okanagan College, Oct. 23, 2017. The Community Leader Awards are given to local members of the community who demonstrate exceptional commitment and leadership.
By Mike Straus
Shelley Pacholok has faced adversity and risen above it, using a story of personal tragedy to advocate for brain injury patients and earning a 2017 Courage Award as a Community Leader.
Pacholok formerly served as an assistant professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, where she regularly worked 60-plus hours per week teaching, writing, and researching. She is also the author of the 2013 book Into the Fire: Disaster and the Remaking of Gender, which examines the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park wildfire and the dynamics at play that destabilize gender patterns in times of crisis.
However, her academic career came to an end on a sunny July morning when, while cycling down a winding stretch of road, she was hit by a truck. Upon awakening in hospital two weeks later, Pacholok discovered she had suffered a brain injury and was forced to adjust to an entirely new life.
Despite facing issues such as vertigo, fatigue, and slower mental processing time, Pacholok is still dedicated to her work, and she often speaks with media on behalf of BrainTrust Canada and at United Way campaigns, including at the September 2017 United Way charity breakfast at the Coast Capri Hotel, where she shared her story and discussed her current research projects and charity work.
Pacholok was nominated for this award by Magda Kapp of BrainTrust Canada.
“Shelley takes every opportunity to share her personal story, and because she has insight into her injury and is a professional, she can express herself in a way that most people with brain injuries cannot,” said Kapp. “She regularly goes above and beyond to help BrainTrust bring awareness to this important cause, and her presentations often move people to tears.”
Pacholok says that telling her story is fulfilling because it demonstrates that anyone can end up needing the services of a local non-profit organization.
“Brain injury can happen to anybody. And it takes a lot of resources to recover from a brain injury. I was lucky, but most people with brain injuries don’t have access to the resources they need to recover.”
Pacholok is now working on a book about living with a brain injury. A hybrid memoir-anthology, the book addresses brain injuries as an invisible epidemic.
“The book is about people who aren’t typically talked about when brain injury comes up, like women who sustained a brain injury as a result of partner violence, or sex workers, or prison inmates.”
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