Written by Pawel Zbieranowski
Barbara Montemurro dedicated 40 years of her life to volunteer work. Throughout all of these years she has been known as “Barb”. Even when there were other Barbara’s around, if you needed something, you would simply ask for Barb and everyone would know who you were talking about.
Barb began her involvement in wheelchair sports at the 1976 Torontolympiad. As a member of the Protocol Program of the Opening Ceremonies, Barb met such prominent individuals as Dr. Robert Jackson, CEO of the Games and Founder of CWSA, and Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a founding father of wheelchair sports. At the Games in Toronto, Barb was totally taken by the performance of the athletes. It was a defining moment for her and from then on, made her want to volunteer for sports for athletes with disabilities.
Following the Torontolympiad Barb answered an ad in a local paper looking for volunteers for Lyndhurst Rehabilitation Centre in Toronto. There she joined the Toronto Bulldogs Wheelchair Sport Club. At the time, this group of quadriplegic athletes were playing the newly created sport of “Murderball” as well as competing in Track and Field (particularly Wheelchair Slalom). Barb's outstanding spirit, sense of humour, and dedication quickly established her reputation as an outstanding volunteer. She became a leader and mentor to many new athletes and volunteers, including myself.
Barb's volunteer work with wheelchair athletes quickly led her to various administrative positions which she held at both the provincial and national levels. She was on the Executive of the Ontario Wheelchair Sport Association (OWSA) including holding the position of President for a number of terms. Barb was a founding member of two province wide programs: “Sport Alliance of Ontario” and “Sport 4 Ontario”. She held various positions on the Executive of the Canadian Wheelchair Sport Association (CWSA) including VP High Performance Sports and VP Marketing and Communications.
Regardless of which administrative position Barb held, she was always close to and directly involved with assisting the athletes. Who can forget how Barb's hands were squeezed by young athletes trying to overcome their pre-competition jitters before Murderball/Wheelchair Rugby games or Track and Field events. Sometimes her hands became pure white! Many times in Stoke Mandeville, Barb would be found at 4 am cooking pasta in the kitchen for the Canadian wheelchair marathon racers. (The marathon races were scheduled to start at 6:30 am in order to minimize the impact of the road closures for local traffic.) In the early 80's Barb was given the nickname “Murder Mama” to reflect her extensive involvement in the development and promotion of Murderball.
Barb's volunteer career also included a number of administrative positions as Team Manager. She was the Manager of a number of Ontario Provincial wheelchair sport teams that were attending the National Championships. She was also selected numerous times to be the Manager of the Canadian National Team attending the Stoke Mandeville World Wheelchair Games.
While looking after all of the Canadian wheelchair athletes at these Games in Stoke, Barb also found time to promote Murderball/Wheelchair Rugby to athletes from around the world, through short pick-up games. These were held in parking lots, a helicopter landing pad, and eventually in the gym, but only between wheelchair basketball games.
While representing Team Canada, Barb had the privilege to meet members of the Royal Family including HRH Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and Princess Sarah Ferguson.
Barb's international involvement took her to the Paralympic Games in Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996). She was involved in the Wheelchair Rugby World Championships in Nottvil, Switzerland (1995), Toronto (1998) and Gothenburg, Sweden (2002). Barb was also the IWRF Treasurer from 1993-2002.
Barb's volunteer journey was not affected by her own disability. Over the years, starting in the early 1990's, she began losing her eye sight as a result of an infection. Yet again, her inner strength and sense of humour allowed her to overcome this condition. She carried on as if there were no obstacles, demonstrating an exemplary attitude. In her daily activities as a volunteer leader in sports, Barb provided her “ears” to so many; listening and offering advice, negotiating and finding solutions. She truly lived by her personal motto CCR - “Communication, Cooperation, and Respect”.
Barb says that what excited her most during her years as a wheelchair sport volunteer was the opportunity to observe and follow the blossoming careers of new and young athletes and volunteers.
Barb received various provincial and national awards in recognition of her volunteer work. The CWSA awarded her the Dr. Robert Jackson Award in 1999 and later on, recognized her contributions to wheelchair sports, through the creation of the CWSA Barbara Montemurro Award, which is presented to outstanding CWSA volunteers.