Thursday, 15 December 2016

Circle of Life

Several weeks ago I was taking the ferry to Powell River in order to run training for the 18 players based there who play for the VIPL Riptide. It was on the ferry that I came to realize how lucky I am to be travelling to the same community I have been visiting for more than 30 years, now in my capacity as the Technical Director for the Riptide.

One of my first memories of being in Powell River for soccer was watching my father play goal for the London Boxing Club (1970's). I then recall playing both youth soccer games and high school or junior high school soccer events up there in the early '80's and of course the legendary matches against the mighty Villa in the VISL quite possibly in the later portion of the '80's and early '90's.

Each and every time I make the trip to Powell River I reflect on these experiences, and the people I have been fortunate enough to meet. Both Tyler Laing and Carly Carson were exceptional goalies who grew up in the community and were introduced to me by Paul Likness when I was running Island Keeper Clinics (est 1993). Carly managed to make her way into the Canadian Youth National Team Program and Tyler and I have remained lifelong friends thanks to his mom's antipasto.

There was one time when he visited us in Victoria to attend a goalkeeper training program and ended up staying with our family (which was a fairly common routine) and his parting gift was a jar of mom's antipasto.

To this day, if and when we see one another, if he does not bring a jar we certainly talk about it- it has been 20 years since the first time we met.

I have now just returned from a trip to Port Hardy to train the 12 players we have based out of this remote community who travel 3 hours each way for training (once weekly) and games. The games are often in Victoria, which means a 7-hour drive one way to compete.

During my time in Port Hardy I had the priveledge of reconnecting the dots with several Native friends.

K'odi and I have know one another for more than 20 years, we first met when I drove him out to play in the Canadian Soccer League for the Winnipeg Fury in 1993. He was just a baby and I recall his mother Tidi Nelson's parting words "take care of my boy!" You see, I had experience playing with Kevin Wasden, who like K'odi grew up in Alert Bay. Kevin was the first professional First Nations Aboriginal Soccer Player since Terry Felix played for the Vancouver Whitecaps circa 1975. Kevin and I first played together for the Victoria Vistas in 1989-1990 and then in 1990 for the Nova Scotia Clippers in the Canadian Soccer League. We also travelled together once to Scotland to train with Dunfermline Athletic Club and the Tacoma Stars in the US in the winter months.

Kevin and I often spoke about returning to the Bay to run soccer camps for the kids in the community, but we were never able to make this journey together.

Kevin's life was  tragically taken in his early twenties driving home from Port Alberni to see his girlfriend in Alert Bay.

Sadly, my first visit to the Bay was for his funeral. It was a memorable experience.

We were welcomed into their family with open arms, and by family I literally mean hundreds of First Nations Aboriginals.

In the years to follow Kevin's passing we started the Ha-et tla las Memorial Soccer School in memory of Kevin. These were some remarkable experiences. I can remember running camps with 100+ kids and having the time of my life. The passion for the game in the First Nations Aboriginal Community is contagious. I was able to observe so many young and talented individuals, some as young as ten years old who had the game in their blood.

Soccer has a lengthy history in these communities scattered up and down Vancouver Island. If I am not mistaken,  one of my first camps might have been in and around 1995. The camps were a combination of soccer instruction, fun and learning about life. Each and every single day brought laughter and happiness to all who were involved. The way these little soccer players eyes would light up each and every day we came together to train, play games and have fun was inspiring.

To this day, I will always recall those special moments plying my trade in the remote Native Village of Alert Bay. These soccer camps allowed my to get closer to Kevin's family, as well as K'odi's family, both of which have always been massive supporters of any and every effort we have made to promote the game and provide opportunity for the children in the Bay.

One such special opportunity came when the U19 Canadian Women's National Team visited the community and played an exhibition game against a local select team. Ian Bride and I had both been connected to the Bay through Kevin, so it was an emotional event for the two of us bringing the team here. I recall talking to the girls in the living area of the hostel we were staying in, both Ian and myself in tears giving them the background on the Bay and why we felt it was special to bring the team here.

As always, we were treated like absolute GOLD by the community,  who have always made me, my family, my friends and anybody else I knew that visited the Bay feel WELCOME!

I cannot specifically recall the first time I attended the annual June Sports Soccer Tournament, however, I can tell you that after travelling the world over coming back to the Bay to play in this annual event (held in June) was astonishing! This would be the first time on the west-coast I had experienced the passion for the game I had enjoyed in my travels in European Cultures. I played for the Cormorants several times through the years, playing as a right back or central defender rather than my traditional role of goalkeeper.

The first year I played we made it through to the final in which I recall the first time the ball went out of bounds behind our goal a fan yelled at the top if his lungs "who is the white girl playing centre back" and stared right at me. It was moving- I quickly grabbed the ball, realized there were several layers of people gathered on the sidelines dressed in Black or White (for the Cormorants) and Red and Black (for the Reds). Two cross-town rivalries which had been battling for the annual championship for years.

We were victorious and it was a memorable celebration.

First there was the parade of Champions, in which were were all loaded into a long line of cars as we drove up and down the main drag hooting and hollering singing the "Tlubani Song" (which still brings tingles as I write)! Second, we stopped along the way to march into and through the Nimpkish Hotel, which was the local watering hole and proceeded back to Emma and Crow's for what would turn out to be a what felt like a 2-3 day party! When the singing and dancing finally came to and end, I remember crawling home to find the door locked at Tidi and Bugsey's who I had been staying with.  Luckily, there was a tent in the front yard which I crawled into to sleep off the victory celebration and wait for someone to open the door.

To this very day, each and every time I return to visit the Bay one of the first things that Tidi will note "is that if they new I was coming they would have set-up my tent in the front yard!"

On this most recent trip to Port Hardy I was able to spend a few moments with K'odi at his school in which he is the Cultural Teacher. He took me on a quick walk-about to show me around the school and get a chance to see what they do with the kids. The first thing I noticed was the way which he treated these young children- stopping to hug, hold and/or say "hello" to each and every little one that crossed our path. It was a defining moment for me, knowing full well the impact of having a positive role model such as K'odi in these young kids lives.

On this day he was teaching them how to smoke fish and was in the midst of a multi-day project in which the kids cleaned the fish, light the fire and tended to the smokehouse.

Invaluable cultural traditions being passed on from one generation to the next.

I find myself enjoying the opportunity to revisit each and every one of these communities, as there are so many wonderful memories!

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