N.L.’s Joanne McDonald inducted to national wheelchair basketball Hall of Fame

Joanne McDonald, originally from St. Mary’s, N.L., became the latest member of the Wheelchair Basketball Canada Hall of Fame on Saturday. (Wheelchair Basketball Canada/Facebook)

A woman originally from St. Mary’s, N.L., is the latest athlete to be immortalized in the Wheelchair Basketball Canada Hall of Fame.

Joanne McDonald, born with spina bifida, represented both her province and her country over the course of her career, including more than a decade with the Canadian women’s team, from 1974 to 1985.

“That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” McDonald said from her St. John’s home. “I think that’s a really nice thing to be able to say and I’m very, very honoured by it.”

She was inducted into the Hall of Fame via webcam, after the award banquet scheduled in Montreal was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

McDonald, who was inducted into the SportNL Hall of Fame in 1993, excelled in several other sports, including table tennis, slalom, and track and field. However, she said, nothing drew her attention like basketball. In her acceptance speech Saturday night, she said it was “love at first dribble.” 

“Basketball was one of the very first sports I tried and I just loved it from the get-go,” McDonald said. “It just clicked for me.”

McDonald’s stint with the national women’s team included three trips to the Paralympic Games, in 1976, 1980 and 1984. During her time on the court, she said she was fuelled by the desire to get better.

“[I wanted] to be as good as I could possibly be in that sport,” McDonald said. “It wasn’t about achieving any kind of success. Like getting in the Hall of Fame was never a driver. It was always about learning the sport as well as I possibly could.”

McDonald represented Canada in wheelchair basketball from 1974 to 1985, including three trips to the Paralympic Games in 1976, 1980 and 1984. (Submitted by Joanne McDonald)

Her 15-year career brought her around the world, before a significant shoulder injury forced retirement. When asked about a story that sticks out from her travels, she recalled a tournament in Argentina that featured armed guards behind the benches.

“It was quite an experience, let’s put it that way,” McDonald joked. “We would make comments afterwards, when you’re back home safe and sound, like, ‘You better not miss that shot.”

Pretty well anybody can succeed once the barriers are removed– Joanne McDonald

Following her basketball career, McDonald returned to Newfoundland and Labrador as an advocate for para-sports and people living with disabilities.

She travelled across the province speaking to students about athletes with disabilities, and spoke for improved provincial legislation in order to better the lives of those living with a disability in the province.

“Pretty well anybody can succeed once the barriers are removed,” McDonald said. “It was trying to create an awareness of abilities rather than disabilities.”

Over the past five years, wheelchair basketball has seen incredible growth in Newfoundland and Labrador. Last year, the province was able to send a team to the Canada Winter Games for the first time since 2007. The province has also had athletes like Liam Hickey and Danielle Arbour compete on the international level.

Gary Power, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Wheelchair Sports Association, credits McDonald with being a driving force behind the development of the sport in the province.

“I think [her induction] gives all our young athletes an indication … to what they can achieve if they want,” Power said. “It shows our athletes that if you want to achieve greatness in wheelchair basketball, all you need to do is look to Joanne and see what she’s accomplished.”

McDonald hopes her induction can spark more people in the province to give wheelchair basketball a try.

“It’s such an amazing sport. I loved it when I played and still love watching the game today,” she said. “We’ve got some young up and comers; hopefully they’ll motivate more people to become involved in the sport and be successful as they are.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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