In January, DePace was inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame for his lifetime contributions to enhancing athletic opportunities for competitors in wheelchairs. DePace, director of Capital Projects at the University of Rhode Island and an East Greenwich resident, was paralyzed in a car accident in 1967. He began competing as a wheelchair athlete in 1968, the year he earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from URI.
“I wish I could have been inducted for my prowess as an athlete, but I was pretty mediocre,” DePace joked. “It is an honor to be included with such a great group of people who have dedicated their lives to making life more fulfilling through athletics for those who compete in wheelchairs.”
DePace has been on the University staff since 1977, and in the last 15 years, he has played a pivotal role in some of the largest building projects in the University’s history, including the Ryan Center, three new residence halls, a new dining hall, a new home for the College of Business Administration and a new Alumni Center.
DePace was originally supposed to be inducted in 1996, but he said he was too young for a lifetime award. When accepting his award in January at ceremonies in Las Vegas, he said, “I didn’t want to accept it (then), because I didn’t think that I was through contributing. Induction into the Hall of Fame is something that you are honored with at the end of you career ”.
A fixture at University athletic events since he began working on the Kingston Campus, DePace went to the New England Wheelchair Games at Crotched Mountain, N.H. during his commencement weekend at URI. “I competed in the discus and the shot put and then drove back for graduation.”
He then assembled a team of about 80 Rhode Island wheelchair athletes that competed for about eight years, and he helped establish and played for the Rhode Island Rhode Runners, a wheelchair basketball team.
But his influence has extended far beyond the borders of Rhode Island.
Here are some highlights of his service:
• U.S Olympic Committee, Board of Directors, 1988-2003;
• Chef de Mission for the U.S. team in Barcelona, Spain, 1992 IX Paralympics
• International Stoke Mandeville Wheelchair Sports Federation, vice president and president, 1998 through 2003;
• International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation, Executive Committee, 2003-present
• Atlanta Paralympic Games (1996) Organizing Committee
• Wheelchair Sports, USA, chairman, 1998-2003.
And his trophy case is filled with awards from the University, engineering groups and a variety of organizations dealing with wheelchair sports and advocacy on behalf of persons with disabilities.
DePace said one of the highlights of his service was captured in a picture from the 1992 Barcelona games. In the photo, DePace is in his wheelchair leading 500 U.S. athletes and staff, dressed in red, white and blue, into the stadium. “To see this throng of U.S. athletes dressed in matching uniforms, it was just unbelievable.”
As a major player in the organization of the Paralympics, DePace has been to Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, and Athens. The Paralympics are normally held two weeks after the Olympic Games.
He’s also spent time in Washington working on behalf of wheelchair athletes to change the law that chartered the Olympic Committee in the United States. “It took us 20 years, but we were able to get the USOC to recognize properly that athletes with disabilities belonged within the movement,” DePace said.
HALL OF FAMER: East Greenwich resident Paul DePace, director of Capital Projects at the University of Rhode Island, holds the plaque presented to him upon his selection to the Wheelchair Sports, USA Hall of Fame. At left, he shows the magazine cover of Sports ‘N Spokes that shows him leading the 500-person United States’ contingent into the stadium at the 1992 Paralympics in Barcelona. URI News Bureau photo by Michael Salerno Photography.