COLORADO SPRINGS, CO - On January 3, 2022, Chicago’s adaptive sport community lost a dear friend, mentor and role-model. On that same day the Paralympic Movement lost a true pioneer as Hope Chafee passed away. Chafee blazed trails within the women’s adaptive sport movement of the 1970’s as she could be found on a track, in a road race or on a basketball court with her brother, Ian Chafee, and her sister in-law, Ella Chafee. Together the three Chafees were influential activist for females in the Chicago-land and broader adaptive sports world.
Hope Chafee broke down barriers and showed the male-dominated fields she competed in a fierce competitor who was as kind as she was tough. It is with these traits that Chafee was incredibly respected by all who knew her. Chafee was a founding member of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) Express who later became the RIC Sky.
Chafee made the best of the athletic opportunities at University of Illinois - Champaign – the Gizz Kids and became a world-class athlete. During the 1964 Tokyo Paralympic Games she won a bronze medal in the 50 meters free style, a silver in the 50 meters backstroke, and gold in the 50 meters breaststroke. In the course of the 1968 Tel Avivi Paralympic Games, she added the shot put and discus throw to her repertoire as well as competing in the 50 meters freestyle and the 3X25 meters individual medley.
Chafee continued to compete in swimming, athletics (track and field), and archery at the regional and national level into the 21st Century winning scores of medals while training with the Chicagoland Sidewinders along with Ella and the logistical support of Ian.
When the women’s NWBA game was established, Chafee spearheaded the formation of the first team in Chicago, the Chicago Charm. The team eventually morphed into the RIC Express and then RIC Chicago Sky. The Chicago team was one the oldest, enduring women’s community-based team in the NWBA. When the Sky folded after the 2014-2015 season, Chafee was still rostered.
Chafee also served with enthusiasm on the Paralympic Committee of the Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid effort. She has been an active member of the Midwest Olympic-Paralympic Society. She witnessed the Paralympic movement in the USA blossom from the fruits of her and her teammates’ dedication and successes, despite lack of resources and support in the 60s and into the early 80s from the AAU or USOC, to the gradual evolution of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) responsible for elite sports programming including sending the U.S. Paralympic Team to the summer and winter Paralympic Games.
NWBA national champion and Paralympic gold medalist Patty Cisneros Prevo reflected on her relationship with Hope Chafee, “This is where it all started for me almost 25 years ago- my RIC Express family. So sad to hear that my friend, my teammate, the last of the Chafee trio- Hope Chafee, has passed away. Hope and all these RIC women have had such an incredible influence on my life. They’ve been like sisters, tias, and moms to me when I first started playing wheelchair ball. Hope was so kind and patient with this then newbie. Thank you for all you have done for me and the sport of wheelchair basketball. Rest In Peace, Hope. You will be missed.”
Class of 2018 NWBA Hall of Famer Mike Frogley describes Hope Chafee as, “An individual that was not only excellent as an athlete, but then went into the community and gave back so that others could have opportunities like her.”
Upon retiring as a competitor Chafee could still be found on a track or a court as she embraced the role of coach and mentor as she helped to recruit young ladies to participate in adaptive sports. Chafee recruited the likes of three-time Paralympian Darlene Hunter to the sport of wheelchair basketball. Hunter shares, “When I first started playing ball in 2000, Hope was one of the first people I met in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s Women’s Division. Hope was so welcoming and encouraging as a staple in our community and one of the true pioneers. She will be greatly missed.”
The NWBA is thankful for the contributions and commitment from Chafee to growing the Paralympic Movement for women and the Chicago-land area. The NWBA extends condolences to Hope Chafee’s family, friends, and former teammates.