By Tom Degun
March 8 - Russia's wheelchair curling team captain Oksana Slesarenko (pictured) has been voted February's International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athlete of the Month, topping an all-female shortlist which was composed to celebrate International Women's Day today.Slesarenko beat her five female rivals for the award by securing a huge 43 per cent of the vote after leading her squad to gold at the 2012 World Championships in Chuncheon, Korea, where she was the only female captain at the event.
She held off American alpine skier Laurie Stephens, who took 24 per cent of the vote, as well as British Para-cyclist Sarah Storey who claimed 14 per cent.
German alpine skier Andrea Rothfuss, Nigerian powerlifter Grace Ebere Anzoie and Thailand's women's wheelchair tennis team were also up for the honour but none got close to Slesarenko, who used the announcement on International Women's Day to pay tribute to her mother and daughter, who she says are her two biggest inspirations.
"My mother put her heart and soul into me and my daughter has supported me during my entire sport career," she said.
Not only did Slesarenko help Russia win gold ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics, but she led the squad to its first ever wheelchair curling medal on the international stage after an unfortunate series of events.
Russian coach Vladimir Shevchenko passed away during the championships to leave the team completely downcast before they went on to honour his memory with a victory he would have been proud of.
"This victory is dedicated to him – the coach who put his efforts, experience and patience into our success," Slesarenko said.
"We were feeling his support during the Championships.
"We are very happy that in such a hard struggle we won.
"It took us nine years to have this victory and finally, thanks to the unity of our team, will power and great aspiration, we have become the best."
In total, the Russians won nine of their 12 contests in total at the championships and defeated hosts Korea 9-1 in a one-sided final.
"We have reached just the first goal," Slesarenko added.
"The next one is Paralympic Games in Sochi.
"We will strive to win."
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