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Empire Games medallist gave all on track, in life

Okotoks: Annabelle Murray McLean who competed at 1954 Empire Games passes at 86

Long before Jim “Bearcat” Murray helped train the Calgary Flames to a  Stanley Cup championship in 1989, he was assisting a track athlete en route to winning a bronze medal at the Empire Games.  

“Annabelle was a great athlete, mostly running but triple jump as well,” said Bearcat Murray of his younger sister Annabelle. “I always told her that I was the one who trained her to be that fast because her and her girlfriend were always stealing my bike and I chased them all over Okotoks day after day on my bike.” 

Annabelle Murray McLean, who was inducted into the Okotoks Hall of Fame with her brother Bearcat in 2014, died on May 24 at the age of 86.  

Annabelle was on Canada’s bronze medal winning women’s 4x110-yard team at the Empire Games (now the Commonwealth Games) in Vancouver in 1954. She also competed in the 100-yard dash, the 220 yard, and the long jump.  

She was the Canadian women’s 100-yard champion in 1954 and won consecutive long jump championships in 1955 and 1956.  

Annabelle Murray was the first woman to be inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in 1960.  

“It was unbelievable that that would happen,” said Bearcat, who went into the Alberta Hall of Fame in 2015.   

She might have been the younger sister, but Bearcat looked up to her.  

“I was always very proud of her and what she did,” Bearcat said. “When she made the Canadian team, the town went wild. People donated money to pay her way out there and back. It was really something.” 

She was much more than a track hero to Wendy McLean – she was mom.  

“She would do anything for us,” McLean said. “My sister (Peggy) went quite far in figure skating and mom worked hard to make it happen.  

“My brother (Bill) was a talented hockey player and she was very involved in that. She worked tirelessly to help us… ferrying us around to rinks and different events.” 

Her mom was an important part of Wendy’s golf game.

“For a few years my dad was working at Radium golf course,” she said with a chuckle. “We would drive out to Radium for the weekend and mom would make pies for the golf course… Mom wanted to golf herself but there always seemed to be other stuff happening.” 

Annabelle fulfilled a dream of going on to university after graduating high school in Okotoks in the 1950s.  

She earned coaching certification for figure skating and track while competing in track. She earned a teacher’s certificate at SAIT and taught off and on in Calgary as well as in Saskatchewan. She taught while improving her own education. 

She earned her education degree in the 1980s. 

“Mom worked her butt off at night school, summer school and correspondence courses to complete her education degree with the University of Calgary, finally graduating in the early 80’s,” McLean said. “She was an excellent teacher and had always wanted to attend university after high school.” 

Of course, being an athlete there were also disappointments.  

Annabelle had thought she had qualified for the 1956 Olympics in the long jump.  

“Her big goal was to make it to the Olympics,” Wendy said. “She had done what she thought she needed to do by winning her trials, but they decided to take someone else. 

“That was a huge blow to her… She was devastated by that.” 

She got over life’s blows by working hard and respecting others.  

“To me she was extraordinary in what she accomplished throughout her life, not just her sports stuff,” McLean said. “She was a friend to so many people, so giving."

She was also a strong member of the United Church.  

Annabelle made a life-long friend when she met Bearcat’s wife Shirley in Estevan while visiting. 

“She would come down and visit us,” Shirley said. “She would do anything for you. She was good at everything she did. Just a wonderful sister-in-law.”

Bruce Campbell

About the Author: Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell is the editor for and the Western Wheel newspaper. He is a graduate of Mount Royal College journalism program, 1991. For story tips contact
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