Written by Bob Steadward
Elaine Ell was an indispensable and irreplaceable member of our CWSA Family. A humble, inspired, compassionate and yet relentless crusader, who made her impact through her unselfish contributions to family, sport and community.
Elaine was born on November 2nd, 1938 on her parents’ farm south of Bow Island, Alberta with the help of a mid-wife. She was born with a congenital disability which presented a few challenges in her early life but created many opportunities in her later life. Elaine spent most of her childhood years in the Children’s Hospital. Due to medical complications, it was necessary for Elaine to endure many multiple operations to amputate her legs by the time she was 16 years old. After these surgical interventions, Elaine was finally fitted for leg braces and crutches. This is perhaps where she developed a little of her stubbornness but great perseverance and to never, ever give up.
Elaine did most of her schooling at the Calgary Children’s hospital and then enrolled and completed secretarial school. Even though she had a wonderful passion for sport, she had no opportunity to participate in her early days while at the Children’s hospital. But, at night she would listen to sport on her transistor radio which was hidden under her pillow.
Elaine arrived in Edmonton in 1957 with new leg braces, a new job and a love for sport. She travelled from Bow Island by bus (7 hours) and stayed at the YWCA. An incredible courageous commitment for such a young person with a disability who spent so much of her childhood life in an institution. Her first job from 1957 to 1979 was with the Government of Alberta, Attorney General’s Department.
When Elaine received her first wheelchair, she threw her leg braces and crutches in the closet, and she was free and independent. She then looked for the closest ball diamond and hockey arena.
After over 20 years with the provincial government Elaine met Dave Dryden, who was a goalie for the Edmonton Oilers of the World Hockey Association. They became lifelong friends, and during Dave’s transition to the NHL, Elaine was hired by Glen Sather in 1979 to work as the Assistant PR Director for the Edmonton Oilers, a job she held for 9 years. During this time, she became a legend in the NHL for correcting a lot of statistical errors the league had made with the various media guides. Elaine’s job with the Oilers was very demanding and in the late 80’s after a few Stanley Cup rings she moved on to work for the Edmonton Paralympic Sports Association as their Executive Director and then later as the Program Director for the Alberta Northern Lights Wheelchair Basketball Society.
Elaine started training and competing seriously in sport in 1968 when she competed in her first national Wheelchair Games in Edmonton. She had an illustrious career in sport both at the national and international level for more than 20 years.
Elaine was a multisport athlete who competed in track & field, pentathlon, swimming, archery and basketball. She was a member of Canada’s women’s national wheelchair basketball team for more than 10 years. She competed in Canada’s National Championships every year over a 20 year span from 1968 to 1988. Elaine was a member of Canada’s Pan American Games team and competed in four (4) Games from 1969 to 1975 in Argentina, Jamaica, Peru and Mexico. She also competed in four (4) Paralympic Games from 1976 to 1988. It was after the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul that Elaine retired from competitive sport at the youthful age of fifty (50). Elaine was inducted into Alberta’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1976. In 1997, Elaine returned home to Bow Island to live with her mother Mary until her untimely death on April 12, 2015.
During her sporting career, she accumulated more than 100 medals nationally and internationally as well as set many national and international records. On top of these achievements, she always held down full time employment throughout her entire sporting career. She was truly an icon in sport.