Canada History Week Day 6: Where Heroes Come

Steadward1July 1-7 is Canada History Week, and this year’s theme is Sport throughout History

According to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, “without Robert Steadward, it is possible that the state of disability sport would still be somewhere between the Dark Ages and the Ice Age. It was he who dared to promote disability sport at the international level, brought it to the world’s attention, and gave it a life.” On day six of our look back into Alberta sport history, we profile a man who led the charge in bringing Paralympic sports to the world’s stage.

These days, the Paralympic Games are nearly as big as the Olympic Games, as far as international sporting competitions go. As an increasing number of countries around the world help open the doors of sport to those with disabilities, interest in Paralympic sport and participation are growing.

Since the 1960’s, Dr. Robert Steadward has worked to educate society about the abilities of the disabled. For example, in 1967 he was the head coach for the Paralympic Sports Association in Edmonton. After attending the University of Alberta for his undergraduate and Master’s Degree, and the University of Oregon for his PhD, Dr. Steadward spent thousands of hours volunteering on behalf of athletes with disability. He helped to found the Alberta Wheelchair Sports and Recreation Association; the Research and Training Centre for the Physically Disabled at the University of Alberta; and, the Canadian Olympic Trust Fund for the Physically Disabled. He has been the team manager and/or coach for many of Canada’s international teams of disabled athletes.

In 1989, Dr. Steadward became the founding president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), bringing together 174 National Paralympic Committees, four international organizations of sport for the disabled and five regional organizations. The formation of the IPC brought Paralympic sports into a cohesive whole to promote sport by athletes with disability the world over. Under Dr. Steadward’s leadership, the Olympics started to hold a Paralympic Games in conjunction with the able-bodied games, giving the Paralympics an unprecedented level of support, respect, and funding – elements that remain crucial to supporting and uniting all athletes as one, regardless of physical ability.

Steadward2Back home in Alberta, Dr. Steadward has made a number of contributions to helping people with disabilities enjoy sport and physical activity. Aside from the more than 150 papers on disability sport that he has published, Dr. Steadward also founded The Steadward Centre for Personal & Physical Achievement Centre (formerly the Rick Hansen Centre) in Edmonton. The Centre is described as “a place where athletes with disability can go not only to train but to test their abilities, develop regimens for a healthier life, and reach their full physical potential despite their outward limitations.”

Dr. Robert Steadward was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Canada Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. In 2010, he was chosen for investiture into the Alberta Order of Excellence, the highest honour the province can bestow on a citizen.

According to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, “No Edmontonian, Albertan or Canadian has exerted as much positive influence on the world of Paralympic sports as Dr. Steadward.”

Thanks to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame for their files

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