Denise Smith MBE

Denise, centre, with from L to R, sister Verna and Dick and Alison Snell, in front of the award-winning Society stall at the IWA Beale Park Rally in 2006

It is very sad to have to report the passing of Denise Smith. Until quite recently she handled the Society’s mail order sales and with her sister Verna was the “face” of the Society presiding over the Sales Stand at many local events for most of the last 15 years.

What many people may not be aware of were her sporting achievements. She had polio as a child and later in life was seriously injured when a drunk driver went into her car. However, she never let being wheelchair bound stop her doing what she wanted to do. She was the winner of the first London Wheelchair Marathon in 1983 in a time of about 4½ hours – no racing chairs then.

She then represented UK in the 1984 Winter Paralympics, winning three Silver Medals for Ice Sledge Speed Racing. Her involvement in many different sports, including becoming World Champion waterskier, and encouragement of other disabled athletes, led to her being named the Sunday Times Sports Person of the Year in 1990.  The 2016 International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation Competition Handbook still lists her as holder of the World Record jump for the MP1 category.

Denise on the water

A serious waterskiing accident put an end to her competitions, but not her involvement with sport and in 1992, she was awarded an MBE for service to Sport for the Disabled. She also began a career as a motivational speaker – “If I can do it, so can you!” For some years she was an Ash Vale Parish Councillor.

She was unstoppable. She didn’t even seem too bothered after a car ran into the Society’s gazebo at a local fête and put her in hospital with a broken leg; she just began planning on how to spend the compensation on a motorised wheelchair. It is just very sad that she isn’t going to benefit from plans to equip her house better or from the new car that was being built for her.

We shall miss her greatly and send our sympathy to her sister Verna and the family.