Engineering for Sports and Change

By 1978 Everest and Jennings commercial dominance was so great that company was showing a failure to innovate leaving others to respond to demands for more performance. One of the first ultra-light wheelchairs came on the market in 1979 based on the specifications of an American athlete Marilyn Hamilton. Eventually Everest and Jennings went out of business while some activist wheelchair users began producing their own chairs. They wanted efficiency and fun without the austerity of the E&J chairs.

Sports wheelchair, circa 1975, in museum display

Sports wheelchair, manufacturer Everest and Jennings Inc, circa 1975. New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame, accession number H.F.998-21. Used by athlete Sandra DeVenney in national and international competitions in the 1970s.

Paralympic sports developed out of rehabilitation sports at the British World War 2 veterans hospital in Stoke Mandeville, England. In Canada the medical opinion on rehabilitation was that the returning veterans should focus on entering the work force and not on sports. Yet Canadian athletes like Sandra DeVenney of New Brunswick were keen competitors as the official Canadian opinion slowly changed to embrace sports in the 1970s.

Sandra DeVenney competing in wheelchair sports, 1970s.

DeVenney won her competitions with an adapted Everest and Jennings chair. Later athletes used the lighter 1980s chairs which made wheelchair sports more exciting and allowed them to reach their full potential. As the Paralympics became more widely known, improved coaching and training made the competitors world-class athletes whose winning times are now near Olympic levels. Commercial companies also became interested in supplying high performance equipment. The improved technology then spread into the commercial market for those with the means to pay for performance.