By Rob Ficiur
Elaine Ell – a four time Paralympic thlete with two bronze medals and a two time Stanley Cup champion when working on the Edmonton Oilers staff, was one of Bow Island and area’s greatest volunteers. I was surprised how deeply I felt the loss when I heard last week that she had passed away.
Every time I saw Elaine we had to (and yes we just had to) visit about one of her two favorite sports – the Edmonton Oilers or the Toronto Blue Jays. Whether it was a two minute “What do you think about the team now?” or a lengthy analysis of the team where we did our best to “solve” the problems facing the teams.
When it came community service Elaine wanted to bring the world to Bow Island. She had a vision of a signature event every weekend from May to September in our area. Even with her high hopes, she knew we had to start small and work our way up to drawing people to our community through simple events like ball tournaments. Running parallel to these events could be cook offs that would bring more of the community together.
Elaine Ell participated in the Paralympic Games from 1976 to 1988. She won two bronze medals in the 1976 Toronto games for Javelin Throw and Pentathlon. All together she owned over 100 medals in the various national and international competitions she attended. Her first international event was in Argentina in 1969. She retired after the 1988 Seoul, South Korea Paralympics. Elaine won the Stan Stronge Memorial in 1995. The Stan Stronge Award is given to an athlete who demonstrates commitment to wheelchair sports as well as to the community on a local, provincial, national and international scale.
Elaine’s participation in wheel chair basketball indirectly got her a job with the Edmonton Oilers. She first met Glenn Sather when he played with the Edmonton Oil Kings (1962-63 season). Years later Elaine was on a flight to Minnesota for wheel chair basketball. The Oilers were on the plane heading to play the North Stars. She suggested to Glen that they hire her to work for the team. They did.
Elaine’s main job was to set up interviews for the media with players. When the Oilers were the new and rising stars in the early 1980’s there were many media requests for interviews. She also made sure that the Oilers’ game notes were ready for the media before each game. This including updating the statistics and injuries. Elaine wrote articles for the Oilers’ Game Day magazine and made public speaking presentations for and about the Oilers. This demanding job often kept her at the rink late at night then she had to be back in morning to prepare for the next game.
Last October, Elaine was thrilled to be invited the celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Edmonton Oilers first Stanley Cup. Though she has not worked for the Oilers for more than two decades, they sent her a written invitation to the celebration. Kevin Lowe, the Oilers’ President, emailed Elaine to invite her to a reception for the team and staff at his home.
During the wonderful three day event the Oilers officials treated her as if she was still a member of the team. She was touched when Kevin Lowe and Wayne Gretzky thanked her by name for her role in the team. Being an avid sports fan she still did not hesitate to give General Manager Craig McTavish advice “[Rookie] defensemen (and top prospects) Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom should be in the minor leagues if they are not going to play regularly with the Oilers.” She was impressed the MacTavish listened to her opinion.
With the Oilers going through another losing season, it was easy for arm chair experts to bash the team leaders. Elaine was more tolerant than the average fan partly because she knows Team President Kevin Lowe and General Manager Craig MacTavish as people. She also knew how hard they work at their jobs.
The last time I saw Elaine was in February. Baseball spring training was about to start, and I wanted to know how she thought the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays were going to do. Who was going to be their closer and second basemen and why? On that day I was in a hurry to get somewhere else and I thought we would chat later. Looking back my rushing and hurry were not that important – I should have taken the time to chat.
The next time the Blue Jays and the Oilers make the playoffs and the later win a championship, I will automatically think of Elaine. I don’t know if they watch hockey and baseball in heaven – but if they do she will have been cheering on her teams to victory.
I wrote this article the day of Elaine’s funeral. Around 6:15 that night, as I finished writing this this article I checked the NHL website and was shocked to see that Elaine’s Edmonton Oilers just won the 2015 Draft Lottery. The Oilers had an 11.5% chance of winning this draft (and then drafting Connor McDavid the next NHL superstar).I thought of Elaine – and how she must be cheering again for her team.