HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Ottawa’s Louise Hanna-Walker, an elite, international high jumper in the 1970s and a sports-medicine doctor who helped athletes return to the game, has been remembered again and recalled to the winners’ circle.
Hanna-Walker was one of four athletes and builders named to the Class of 2021 for induction into the Athletics Ontario Hall of Fame. She will enter with athlete Victor Pickard and builders Roman Olszewski and Ken Hall.
“I was delighted,” Hanna-Walker said, when she recently learned she would be entering her third sports shrine. She has been inducted into the University of Toronto Sports Hall of Fame (1993) and the Nepean Sports Wall of Fame (2007).
“It came out of the blue. I absolutely didn’t expect this. That was a part of my life a long time ago, but it was formidable and it molds your future.”
Now 70, Hanna-Walker can reflect once again on an athletic career that took her to four major international games, including two Summer Olympics, saw her win two Canadian women’s titles and be ranked fifth in the world.
At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Hanna-Walker cleared 1.73 metres to finish 29th in the women’s high jump. Four years later in Montreal, she upped her Olympic performance with a best jump of 1.78 metres for 20th place.
But in the four years between the two Olympics, she reached even higher heights and stepped onto the medal podium: 1974 Commonwealth Games, Christchurch, 1.82 metres, silver; and 1975 Pan-American Games, Mexico City, 1.86 metres, silver.
Hanna-Walker also captured the Canadian women’s high jump titles in 1973 and 1975, and broke the national intercollegiate record in 1975 with a jump of 1.87 metres. That height ranked her fifth in the world that year.
Her two best memories as an athlete didn’t focus on specific athletic competitions, but rather special moments she experienced at the 1972 Olympics and the 1974 Commonwealth Games.
As the Canadian team lined up for the opening ceremony of the 1972 Olympics, she stood beside and spoke to rower Jim Walker, who would reach the coxed four semifinals. That moment initiated a life-long relationship.
At the Commonwealth Games, she was presented her silver medal by Queen Elizabeth II, which was a significant moment, since she was a Royal Family follower. She also met Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, on two occasions at the Friendly Games.
Hanna-Walker felt fortunate to compete at the Commonwealth Games because she had a small bone fracture in her non-takeoff ankle several months before. But she battled through with a heavily-bandaged right ankle.
In 1988, Hanna-Walker opened the Nepean Sport Medicine Clinic with two associates and put all kinds of athletes back together again for 15 years. She also was co-director of the Ottawa Sport Medicine Centre, which opened in 2003. Hanna-Walker retired in 2014.
A former chair of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, Hanna-Walker also became the first female president of the Canadian Academy of Sport Exercise Medicine and was an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa.
During her practice, Hanna-Walker remembered helping a young football player recover from a serious injury. When he left, he was very grateful for what she had done for him. They met again eight years later, when he was a medical student taking one of her classes.
“He came up to me and said, ‘I went to medical school because of you,'” said Hanna-Walker, who has been forever touched by that special moment.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.