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Meet your new Whistler Citizen of the Year

Chamber of Commerce hands out hardware at annual Excellence Awards

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Heather Paul knows you only get what you give. It's a life lesson that was cemented for her seven years ago when her husband Al was diagnosed with a brain tumour after falling ill on a trip to Hawaii.

Throughout the tumultuous months ahead, it was the community that helped carry Paul's young family through the long nights and weekly chemo treatments. It's a time that inspired her to pay it forward.

"This town made a huge difference to me in 2010 when my husband got sick and my family got in trouble," she said when reached by phone. "I truly believe what this town did for my family helped save Al's life, and I will never stop giving back."

Paul is the 2017 recipient of the Citizen of the Year award, handed out last Thursday, May 11 at the Whistler Excellence Awards. A systems analyst for the municipality, Paul is also a tireless advocate for grassroots arts in the community, chairs the Arts Whistler board, and volunteers her time to a number of local events. She's also been a vocal advocate for cancer awareness and women's rights.

Presented by the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, the Excellence Awards champion the best and brightest of Whistler across a number of categories.

Sport physiotherapist Mike Conway of Back in Action took home the hardware for Business Person of the Year, recognized for his contribution to developing innovative injury prevention tools in a town chock full of athletes.

"I really love what we've done with Back in Action and the partnerships we've developed over the last couple of years," Conway said during his acceptance speech. "I'm very grateful to get to service a community that's super engaged and motivated, and I'm very fortunate to live and have a career in Whistler, which really is my personal paradise."

In the first year of the Above and Beyond category, recognizing a local individual who has made an "outstanding contribution" to their company or the community, Whistler Blackcomb Foundation's Mei Madden was named the winner. The foundation's executive director, Madden has been instrumental in helping raise over $800,000 annually for local charities.

"The thing that sets Whistler apart from any other place is that we are a community of 'above and beyonds,' and to be singled out is truly humbling," she wrote via email.

Mountain Life Media, which has been showcasing the culture of B.C.'s Coast Mountains across print and digital platforms for more than 10 years, was recognized as this year's Champion of Arts and Culture.

"We exist to share the art of storytelling and to inspire. That's really what we want to do: to inspire through our stories, through our photography and through all the writing we publish," said publisher Todd Lawson. "We thank you all for coming along for the ride with us."

Another major contributor to Whistler's arts scene, painter, filmmaker and DJ, Michael "Chili" Thom, was also honoured with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement award. He died from cancer in November 2016.

"He's left a huge hole in this community and his passing will be felt for a long time," said Maureen Thom, who accepted the award on behalf of her son. "He left us his beautiful paintings as a reminder to take time to stop, look around, and really see the beauty in nature. This is how Michael gave us his love."

The other big winners of the night were: Zep Mountain Bike Camps, which took home the Innovative Business of the Year award; Kara McMaster of Caveman Grocer, named Rising Star of the Year; the Fairmont Chateau's Mallard Lounge, awarded for Whistler Experience Service in the large business category; McCoo's, mountain retailer and winner of the Whistler Experience Service award for small businesses; and the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, recognized for Sustainability in Action.

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