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Michelle Monkhouse Add to ...

Valedictorian, champion rider, groom, fashion model, modern pentathlete, Harry Potter fan, friend. Born April 7, 1991, in Toronto. Died Feb. 17, 2011, in Markham, Ont., in an automobile accident, aged 19.

Michelle Monkhouse must have known she had only a short time with us: She always found ways to fit new adventures into her life from the moment she was born an hour after arriving at the hospital. Initially, her parents, Lyne and Peter Monkhouse, thought she was just trying to keep up with her big brother, Joe. They soon learned that, behind her calm demeanour, Michelle had a bonfire burning within.

Through hard work, focus and perseverance, Michelle transformed herself in astonishing ways. Growing up in Toronto, she morphed from a shy, short, pudgy cherub into a tall, willowy, confident and highly accomplished young woman. Michelle had compassion for all living things (except spiders) and threw herself into everything she did, especially being a good friend. Her calming influence was recognized as early as kindergarten, when classmates gravitated to her. Later in life, as a groom, she mellowed even the most spirited stallions.

Michelle studied gymnastics, synchronized swimming, piano and violin, but when she sat upon a horse at age 8, she was instantly hooked. She spent 12 years at Pause Awhile Equestrian Centre, eventually riding six times a week; becoming a camp counsellor; leasing Belle, then Austin and finally part-boarding Wilson; mucking out stalls; and placing first in the children's class and later in the top 10 for children's hunter in the Ontario Trillium championships - all while remaining a straight-A student.

One of Michelle's riding coaches saw her athletic potential and recruited her at age 12 to train in shooting, fencing, running, swimming and riding to compete as a modern pentathlete. She ranked first in Ontario and third in Canada in the Youth C category.

When Michelle was in Grade 9 at Earl Haig Secondary School, a teaching assistant recognized her beauty and grace and urged her to contact Elmer Olsen Model Management. Michelle was soon modelling at Toronto Fashion Week and featured in fashion magazines. Scouted by Ford Models, she took part in New York Fashion Week in 2009.

After taking a year off to groom horses internationally, Michelle entered Ryerson University's nutrition program in September, 2010, and joined the Ryerson Equestrian Club. She soon met her first boyfriend and fell in love. Michelle had a gift for inspiring her friends, her boyfriend, even strangers.

One February morning on her way to ride, freezing rain began to fall. Michelle hit black ice and was thrown into the path of two oncoming cars. Her family and friends joined Ryerson's Chang School to create the Michelle Monkhouse Award to enable top students to pursue riding, or another passion, in addition to their studies. The embers of her rich life glow on.

By Tracy Keenan, friend of the Monkhouse family

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