Barbara Montemurro, one of the early founders and pioneers of wheelchair sport in Ontario for more than 40 years passed away due to complications from COVID-19 on Monday. She was 82.
Born and raised in Toronto, Montemurro lived in Georgetown from 1992 until she passed on Monday. She took the GO train into Toronto to all events because she lost her eyesight around 1992 and could no longer drive.
She is survived by her daughter Sharon English and her son Scott Montemurro as well as three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
A former member of the Canadian Paralympic Committee board of directors and president of the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association, Montemurro received various provincial and national awards in recognition of her work. A member of the CWSA Hall of Fame in the builder category, the CWSA also created the Barbara Montemurro Award, which is presented to outstanding volunteers.
“Barb was a positive and formidable force within both the provincial and national community for Paralympic sports over the past 40 years,” said Karen O’Neill, CEO, Canadian Paralympic Committee. “Her leadership and ‘Can do’ attitude were indicative of her style and level of commitment to the athletes and coaches. So much of what we have in our community today has been shaped and developed by great early leaders like Barb.”
She began her involvement in wheelchair sports as a volunteer at the 1976 Paralympic Games in Toronto, launching an extensive career which touched numerous facets of wheelchair sports. She was known for her outstanding spirit, sense of humour and dedication and established a reputation as an indispensable volunteer, administrator, and mentor to many.
At the Games in Toronto, Montemurro was taken by the performance of the athletes. It was a defining moment for her and from then on, made her want to volunteer in sport for athletes with disabilities.
Her volunteer work with wheelchair athletes quickly led her to various administrative positions which she held at both the provincial and national levels. She was president of the Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association for a number of terms and founding member of two province-wide programs: “Sport Alliance of Ontario” and “Sport 4 Ontario”.
Montemurro was also a board member for the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation and was involved in the Wheelchair Rugby World Championships in Nottvil, Switzerland (1995), Toronto (1998) and Gothenburg, Sweden (2002).
Her international involvement also took her to the Paralympic Games in Seoul (1988), Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996).
Her children announced her passing on Facebook and the condolence messages have been appearing from many involved in wheelchair and Paralympic sports.
“Barb hired me for my first ‘real’ job as the program manager of the Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association in 1992,” recalled past CPC president David Legg in a posted Facebook message. “I am eternally indebted to her for her mentorship, leadership and mostly just her kindness. She was one of the most genuine and authentic people I've ever met.”
Wheelchair racer Colin Mathieson, a four-time Paralympian echoed the sentiments of many athletes.
“Barb was a staple of the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association,” Mathieson said. ‘’She was an amazing person and huge supporter.’’
Tim Frick, the legendary former head coach of Canada’s women’s wheelchair basketball team and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame member, wrote that her impact expanded beyond provincial and national borders.
“Barb really touched a lot of lives and made a difference to Canadian athletes and athletes from other countries,” he said. “She treated everyone with kindness, respect and sincerity. While she will be missed, her legacy with wheelchair sports will carry on.”