Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota works to raise awareness

Published 7:33 am Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Shannon Boehnke came to a wheelchair knowing what it was like to have use of your legs — and then lose that motion.

As Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota, Boehnke, 40, takes the advocacy for the fellow disabled seriously.

“I want to do what I can” to raise awareness about the needs of the disabled – and the gifts of the disabled.

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She has plenty to offer herself. The 2018 Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota and her husband, Chad, operate Boehnke Waste Management in their small town of Marietta, Minnesota, located just this side of the South Dakota border.

A chance meeting with Ms. Wheelchair America prompted her to enter the next state contest. She competed in March in Maple Grove and won. Next, she will head to the national contest in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

She found out later that she was one of the few who had been named to the title outside the metro area. But that is just one small thing that sets Boehnke apart.

The 1996 Hayfield High School graduate earned her college degree in sociology, married, and had her first son, Alexander, now 13.

A year later, it all fell apart.

She was a passenger in a car driven by her brother when it was hit by a train.

Shannon Boehnke, a Hayfield High School graduate, is the new Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota. She now heads to national competition in July. Photo provided

Among other injuries, she tore her heart valve – “I coded a couple of times,”  she said. – and blood clots formed and affected the nerves in her spinal column. She is what doctors call “an incomplete paraplegic” – she can sometimes feel in her legs, but not all the time. Although she is in a wheelchair, she can stand on occasion, but it is with difficulty and she cannot sustain it.  She later underwent stem cell therapy and intense physical therapy.

“It went well,” she said, but at some point, she stopped the visits “to just get on with my life. I had to move on.” But she is a strong believer in stem cell therapy and has made it one of her platforms in her Ms. Wheelchair bids.

Perhaps more importantly, she said, being in a wheelchair has made her aware of the limitations that you must fight, from stores or restaurants that are simply inaccessible (“If I run into that [lack in accessibility] once, I never go back, ever,” she said) to inaccessible bathrooms – even parking stalls.

She told of one day when she parked her van at an angle – effectively taking up two spots – and the anger that came her way by motorists.

“What they don’t understand is that I cannot get out of the van is someone is parked right next to me,” she said. “But people don’t know sometimes – I get that,” but added she doesn’t get the flat-out rudeness and thoughtlessness of some people.

“If I can raise some awareness, that would be a good thing,” she added. She is an active parent — she has three children altogether; in addition to Alexander, there is Isabella, 4; and MacKenzie, 3 — and active physically, even downhill skiing. She participates in 5- and 10-k races, too. Another talent: She will be singing the “Star-spangled Banner” at the St. Paul Saints game at CHS field on Aug. 15.

Her goal is to raise awareness of the Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota pageant, a good vehicle to educate people about the needs of a those who are wheelchair-bound.

She now heads to national competition, July 30-Aug. 5, where she will face 31 contestants. They will be judged on interviews about issues related to the disabled.

If anyone would like to donate funds to the organization, contact You can also find her on Facebook.