#14: Sandra DeVenney

Written by Sandra DeVenney & Bob Steadward

Sandra DeVenney (née Davenport) grew up in the small, rural community of Central Blissville, New Brunswick, located about 25 miles from the city of Fredericton. At the age of nine, she was afflicted with paralysis in her right leg as a result of polio. Despite this, her mother never gave her any favouritism and made her pull her weight with chores around the home. Growing up, Sandra had plenty of energy, and having polio never slowed her down. She admits that although she played sports with her brothers and sisters while wearing her leg brace, she was “always on the sideline” at school.

After graduating from community college she took a job with the provincial government in Fredericton. In the fall of 1969, she was asked to join a wheelchair basketball team, opening the door to an entirely new world. A local coach, Andy Taylor, saw potential in Sandra, and encouraged her to train for field sports, swimming, and table tennis.

Sandra first competed at the Eastern Wheelchair Games held at the Shearwater Base in Halifax. In 1971, she went on to compete at the National Wheelchair Games in Laval, Quebec, where her gold medal performance in swimming earned her a spot on the Canadian Team. She then competed at the Stoke Mandeville Games in Aylesbury, England, where she started to feel more confident in herself. Attending these games with other athletes with disabilities from across the world opened Sandy’s eyes to the empowerment of sport. She witnessed different techniques used, and spoke with many athletes and coaches, and ultimately returned to Canada with new skills.

Sandra became a fierce competitor, excelling at swimming, basketball, track and field, and table tennis. The following is a list of wheelchair games she attended from 1971-1978:

  • 1971 - Canadian National Wheelchair Games - Laval, Quebec
  • 1971 - Stoke Mandeville International Games - Aylesbury, England
  • 1972 - Canadian National Wheelchair Games - Calgary, Alberta
  • 1972 - Olympiad- Heidelberg, Germany
  • 1973 - Canadian National Wheelchair Games - Vancouver, British Columbia
  • 1973 - Stoke Mandeville International Games - Aylesbury, England
  • 1974 - Canadian National Wheelchair Games - Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • 1975 - Canadian National Wheelchair Games - Montreal, Quebec
  • 1975 - Pan Am Games - Mexico
  • 1976 - Canadian National Wheelchair Games - Guelph, Ontario
  • 1976 - Olympiad - Toronto, Ontario
  • 1977 - Canadian National Wheelchair Games - Edmonton, Alberta
  • 1978 - Canadian National Wheelchair Games - St. John’s, Newfoundland

Sandy was on the Canadian Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team in 1972 and 1976, and participated in two trips with the women’s team to the USA in 1975 and 1976.

Through her athletic career she won a total of 56 medals, including 24 gold between 1971 and 1978. She set six Canadian records and was twice named the best female athlete in her class. Severe problems with bursitis in her shoulders forced Sandra into retirement from wheelchair sports in 1978.

In 1987 she was inducted into New Brunswick’s Sports Hall of Fame, making her the first athlete with a disability to be elected to the sports hall. In 2001, she was inducted into the Oromocto and Area Sports Wall of Fame.

Through her years in wheelchair sports, Sandra has met a multitude of remarkable athletes and coaching staff. Wheelchair sports ultimately gave Sandra self-confidence and made her a better person.