Angela Hendra practicing wheelchair archery

Angela practicing wheelchair archery ©Angela Hendra

Early life

Angela spent her early years growing up in the small coastal community of Malin Head, Donegal. At age 10 her family moved to the city of Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland.  It was at this time that the initial signs of Angela’s lifelong spinal condition became apparent.

At age 12, in 1958, Angela was diagnosed with a spinal abscess which paralysed her at level T4. Following treatment at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast, Angela was transferred to Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury, for rehabilitation.

Stoke Mandeville Hospital

Stoke Mandeville Hospital was a life changing opportunity for Angela which introduced her to a whole new way of living, in contrast to her early years in Ireland. Angela was to stay many months at the hospital adapting to and embracing this new life in a wheelchair, attending schooling, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and occupational therapy.

Under Dr Guttmann’s supervision Angela eagerly participated in the daily therapy sessions. It was during this time, that she developed a passion for competitive sport, especially archery, and table tennis.  She was there, when in 1960, the British team was announced to compete at the first Paralympic games to be held in Rome 1960.  Such was the excitement surrounding this event, Angela was inspired that one day she might also compete internationally.     

On her return to Derry from Stoke Mandeville Angela encountered challenges in continuing her education in a mainstream school, as there were no suitable facilities to accommodate her wheelchair. Consequently Angela was sent to Coole Hospital, a Religious Institution in the South of Ireland, where she witnessed some of the excesses common in such settings in the 1960s. Angela’s rehabilitation provided her with the skills to manage this situation on behalf of the Northern Irish pupils. 

On returning home prematurely, Angela completed a secretarial course but found it impossible to get appropriate employment. The only job on offer was as a Stitcher in a local shirt factory which she rejected. Unable to obtain employment in Derry, Angela decided to seek her fortune in Belfast. Following several applications she was offered an interview for a trainee Cytoscreener in the laboratories at Belfast City Hospital. Angela successfully completed her training and qualified as a Cytologist in Cancer Services, retiring in 2010 after a 43 year career in the NHS.

Life as a Paralympic Athlete

Relocation to Belfast enabled Angela to renew her love of wheelchair sports. Angela joined the newly formed Northern Ireland Paraplegic Association (NIPA), the Northern Ireland Police Service Archery Club and a church table tennis club. 

The onset of Northern Ireland’s “Troubles” created real difficulties for Angela to continue archery. Clearly she had to focus on table tennis. Angela competed against able-bodied teams in both the Belfast and District and the Churches Leagues. Angela’s involvement in the local leagues attracted the attention of a top NI player/coach who helped her improve her game.

NIPA teams participated in wheelchair events throughout Great Britain and Ireland. Angela was a regular competitor throughout the 70s, 80s and early 90s at national events including the Stoke Mandeville National Games, the Rookwood Welsh Games, and Irish Wheelchair Games and SPA Games Scotland.

Angela Hendra receiving her first medal at the national Games. Angela winning gold at the International Games

Angela winning medals in wheelchair table tennis at the national and international Games ©Angela Hendra

Angela’s international debut was representing Northern Ireland in table tennis at the first Commonwealth Wheelchair Games in Edinburgh in 1970. Selection for Ireland followed with participation in the Heidelberg 1972 Paralympic Games, then the Dunedin 1974 Commonwealth Games, Toronto 1976 Paralympic Games and Arnhem 1980 Paralympic Games winning bronze medals at each. Followed by lawn bowls at Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympic Games where she won gold, silver and bronze medals. In addition to the seven Paralympic medals Angela won, she achieved notable success in European and World events including Assen, Basel and Ingolstadt.

Angela Hendra with Yvonne and Rita on the podium with their medals at the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympics

Angela with Yvonne (centre) and Rita (left) representing Ireland at the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympic Games
winning gold, silver and bronze in lawn bowls. ©Angela Hendra
 

Another of Angela’s sports was wheelchair bowls which she took up in the early 80s, and which saw her travel as far as South Africa and Australia to compete at World level. Angela also inspired the development of the Quadrathlon, an innovative multi-sport team event for Tetraplegic athletes which unfortunately was short lived due to competing pressures in the annual Games programmes.

Angela Hendra participating at a Home Counties indoor bowls competition

Angela participating at a Home Counties indoor bowls competition ©Angela Hendra

Recollections

Angela shares an entertaining conversation she had with Sir Ludwig Guttmann over new shoes. 

Retirement as a Paralympic Athlete

 Angela said,

I have mentored people and counselled them when they are first injured, helping them to adjust to wheelchair life and giving them practical information. It is something I have always done.

Throughout her competitive life and in retirement Angela has always been passionate about encouraging others to take up wheelchair sports for enjoyment, fitness or to take it to another level. In 1998 she was one of the founder members of Disability Sport NI, a charity promoting sport and physical recreation for disabled people in Northern Ireland. Since its’ foundation the charity has gone on to represent many different disability groups which benefit some 15,000 people annually in Northern Ireland.  Angela chaired the organisation for 10 years until 2016.

Angela is married to fellow Paralympian Mike who represented Ireland in sailing at the Atlanta 1996 Paralympic Games. He was involved in setting up Belfast Lough Sailability in 2001, a project promoting sailing by disabled people.

Angela was awarded an MBE in the 1992 New Year’s honours, for services to Sport in Northern Ireland.

In 2012 Angela was invited by the Minister of Sport and Culture to serve on the NI Leadership Group charged with preparing the region’s involvement in the lead up to the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.  She was delighted to be invited to light the Cauldron at the Parliament Building, Belfast, sending the Torch Relay on its way across the UK for Margaret Maughan to light the Paralympic Flame at the Olympic Stadium. Angela joined Sebastian Coe to make several medal presentations at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

Angela continues to serve on several of the disability sector organisations promoting Independent Living, Housing Services and Sport.

Achievements and awards

Angela receiving the Disability Sports NI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 ©Disability Sport NI

Paralympic Games

Angela represented Ireland in table tennis at the Heidelberg 1972 Games, Toronto 1976 Games and Arnhem 1980 Paralympics winning bronze medals at each and lawn bowls at the Stoke Mandeville 1984 Paralympics winning a gold, silver and bronze. 

Other sporting events

Angela participated in the 1990 Table Tennis World Championships, winning bronze in Women's Teams class 3.

Other awards and recognition

In 1984 Angela was given the Torch Trophy Trust for services to sport. She was awarded an MBE for services to sport in Northern Ireland in the 1992 New Year's Honours, the Paralympic Order in 2016 recognising her achievements as a Paralympian, as well as services to Sport in Ireland and the Disability Sports NI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 recognising her service promoting disabled sports and disabled rights.

References

  • https://www.cilni.org/2018/10/26/our-board-member-angela-hendra-is-the-winner-of-the-disability-sports-ni-lifetime-award/#:~:text=Angela%20Hendra%20MBE%20is%20a,family%20moved%20to%20Derry~Londonderry. “Our board member Angela Hendra is the winner of the Disability Sports NI Lifetime Award” (2018)
  • https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/entertainment/news/paralympic-flame-on-northern-ireland-journey-28785252.html “Paralympic flame on Northern Ireland journey” (Belfast Telegraph, 2012)
  • https://www.derryjournal.com/news/local-woman-thrilled-receive-award-disability-sport-ni-552284 “Local woman “thrilled” to receive award from Disability Sport NI” (Derry Journal, 2018)
  • https://www.cilni.org/about-us/ “About us” (CILNI)
  • https://www.cilni.org/about-us/the-board/ “About Us- The Board” (CILNI)
  • https://www.derryjournal.com/news/malin-head-born-paralympic-medallist-awarded-irish-paralympic-order-756357 “Malin Head born Paralympic medallist awarded the Irish Paralympic Order” (Derry Journal, 2016)
  • http://www.ipttc.org/results/international/1990/assen/women.htm “World Championships 1990 (Table Tennis)”