As many of you know, I was lucky enough to score my first contract in my new role as Foggygirl Consulting, to conduct a Grey Cup Tour celebration with the BC Lions across B.C. at the end of January. I worked with the BC Lions previously through the world-renowned ActNow BC health promotion platform, so it wasn’t as foreign to me as some might think. After completing the exhausting 7-day tour, I felt it would be interesting to share some of the amazing stories I stumbled upon along the way and of course some pics that I took.
DAY 1 (Burnaby – Maple Ridge – Chilliwack – Abbotsford)
Our launch event started in the Lougheed Mall in Burnaby. I arrived early to set up to find people already gathered an hour and a half ahead of time, clutching their prized BC Lions souvenirs to have the players sign. The Mall had done a tremendous job of promoting the event from posters around the entire mall, tent cards in the food court area and an entire poster board on the history and accomplishments of the BC Lions. The first leg of the Tour featured Travis Lulay, MVP of the 2011 Grey Cup and Paul McCallum, CFLs best kicker ever with a 96% field kick average (I know what you’re thinking…. I sound like I know what I’m saying but I only learned this through the Tour). We had an hour stop at the mall and were able to push through about 200 fans who took pics with the Grey Cup and received autographs from the players.
Our next stops included Maple Ridge, The Act Theatre and then onto Chilliwack at the local YMCA. We finished the day in Abbotsford at Finnigan’s Pub.
DAY 2 (Abbotsford – Saanich – Oak Bay – Colwood – Nanaimo)
After such a busy day on Sunday, it was hard to believe I had to do this all over again the next day and then the next five days too! My day started with a bit of a crazy start as I headed out to go to Rick Hansen Secondary School only to find myself driving somewhere in farmland no where near the school, my iPhone map system wasn’t working and of course, I freaked out. Paul McCallum is not only a great BC Lions player but had this calming effect of talking me through to my destination. He knows everything about iPhones I learned.
The crowds were amazing at the schools and Rick Hansen Secondary was no exception. 300 students, staff and teachers packed the gym to listen to the motivational speeches of both Paul McCallum, veteran of the team and Travis Lulay, the young star with his first Grey Cup win.
We then flew by Helijet over to Victoria to visit Mount Douglas Secondary School, yes my high school! This was by far one of the biggest schools we visited with approximately 1300 students, staff and teachers. It was touching to see the Mount Doug Rams Football team, who won the Provincials this school year, have the opportunity to rub shoulders with the BC Lions. I also saw first hand the power of the Grey Cup, such as when my good friend Scott Harrigan from Island Sports News had the opportunity to not only touch the Grey Cup but meet both Paul and Travis as well.
Our next stop was Safeway at Fort/Foul Bay in Victoria. Some very excited shoppers and staff kept us on our toes. These stops always have one or two characters that stand out. At this stop there was an elderly woman who was a grandma from one of the BC Lions players (not one of the players present) and made her way through the line-up to meet both Travis and Paul. Some individuals even had the courage to wear an opposing team’s jersey to meet the BC Lions players and of course, that didn’t go without some fun banter between the players. It really amazed me how individuals are so dedicated to being a fan. Some of these people never leave the Island but are fans through and through, this opportunity was a once in a lifetime for them.
We rushed off to finish our formal events at Bear Mountain, the Kinsmen Fieldhouse in Colwood. A small but enthusiastic crowd enjoyed more pics and discussions with the players. We were then off to Nanaimo at the Harewood Arms Pub for a KidSport Fundraiser, not before driving the Malahat in some of its worse conditions – fog, rain and dark. I’m not a big fan of driving in the dark but had no choice but to remain calm and take my time. (side note – PLEASE someone fix that highway!)
The Harewood Arms Pub was packed with adoring fans who literally went crazy as we walked through the door with the players and the Grey Cup. It was like a bomb exploded. I think no one was more excited than Travis Lulay to see all of the fans there to greet them and the Grey Cup. He was like a little boy in a candy store! Fans were respectful, and again, it was so exciting for me to see the joy that sport injects on people. This was Day 2 and I went to bed thinking the same as last night….”is this really only Day 2?”
Day 3 (Nanaimo – Comox – Kelowna – Kelowna)
An early start to the day with a breakfast event at the Hornets Rugby Club. At this point I was starting to feel like a robot running on jet fuel and I think the entire team was feeling the pace. Even with this pressure, the BC Lions players were pure gentlemen and ready to tell their inspiring story of winning the Grey Cup. I have to admit, I have heard many athletes speak publicly and I’m ashamed to say I did have a preconceived notion of what I was going to hear from football players. I was stunned. Like any great athlete, they are inspiring, encouraging and humbling. They are gracious, patient and listen with interest to their fans.
Our next stop took us to Comox Recreation Centre. A packed house of about 250 fans from local high school football teams to the dedicated Islanders who just wanted a glimpse or a chance to say hello to their favourite players. It was also here that an additional request was made to have a photo taken with the brand new Comox fire truck and some of the local firefighters.
We were then off to the airport to fly to Vancouver, drop off Travis, Paul and Jamie Taras and pick up Scott Ackles, Geroy Simon, Angus Reid and J.R. LaRose and fly to Kelowna. Flying was a blessing in disguise, it was a chance to nod off and not worry about the next stop or finding the next stop. We checked into the hotel, the Sandman, I have to say they are great hotels! Sandman has picked up their game if you want a nice, inexpensive suite, the Sandman was great. We dashed over to the Laurel Packinghouse with yet another 200 or more waiting fans to touch the Cup and see the players. We finished the evening with another KidSport fundraiser at Mickie’s Pub where for the first time I was pleased to see a small, intimate crowd. It was already three solid days of travel averaging about 4-6 events per day. I was knackered.
Day 4 (Penticton – Penticton – Vernon – Kamloops – Kamloops – Kamloops)
Another early start to the day and we headed off to KVR Middle School in Penticton. As much as I was exhausted from the previous days, when you walk into a gym of very excited students and staff, with kids’ faces painted and hand-made signs hung, it reignites the excitement. Like many of the other stops, we played a DVD of the BC Lions and of their Grey Cup win before introducing the Grey Cup and the players (see photo below of the players in waiting). I never got bored of watching the same video, it was so uplifting. I wanted to go out and run up a mountain each time!
Our next stop was one that we had organized with about 2 days notice. It was an event at the Rona in Penticton. Boy was the manager of the store excited as well as the staff! Lots of media attention as well and fans came in droves to line up and have their chance with the Lions. Its great when people are appreciative and accommodating. The Rona manager confided to me that the he had very little sleep the night before as he was that excited. So cute. We left Rona with our goodie bags and headed on down to Vernon. Having been lost once in Abbotsford, I vowed never to be lost again and installed a GPS with each of the rental cars I had from that day on. With a small margin of time to get to another event, it was stressful when hungry and not familiar with the area. Sadly, no time to stop in at the Naramata to pick up some wine from my favourite stops 🙂
Once in Vernon, we headed to a last minute venue change to Wesbilt Arena. I entered the building and found about 350 people waiting in line to meet the players and have photos with the Cup. Luckily, we had planned an extra half-hour at this stop and we had a pretty good system developed until this point. Prior to the crowds entering the area with the Cup and players, a special ceremony was held for some area school kids who had conducted a writing contest on why they should be picked to see the B.C. Lions. A young girl in grade 5 or 6 read her story to the crowd. It was a tear-jerker. She read how her dad was real sick and can’t get out any more and how he loves the BC Lions. She wanted a chance to show her dad that she had the opportunity to meet them. Not a dry eye to be had. It’s moments like these that just trip you up along the route and spur you on to do more.
We left Vernon with a very happy crowd to drive back up to Kamloops to the Tournament Capital Centre. Now that’s a sweet facility! There were about 300 fans in the stands at centre court waiting anxiously for the Cup and the boys to arrive. There were even a few beauty queens waiting as well, literally. We then dashed over to be a part of the Kamloops Blazers game on centre ice. Geroy, Angus and J.R. paraded around the ice in high-priced cars with the Grey Cup to a standing ovation of 4,000 plus fans.
Our day wrapped up with another KidSport Fundraiser event at the Commodore in Kamloops. I was half-way through my trip and I knew the biggest day of the entire trip was coming the next day. I had prayed to the weather gods all week for our travel from Kamloops to Prince George with stops in 100 Mile House and Williams Lake.
Day 5 (Kamloops – 100 Mile House – Williams Lake – Prince George – Prince George)
We woke up early, again but most of us had been rudely awoken by the back-fire of a car at about 5:00 a.m. Someone decided that it was appropriate to try and fix their beast -0f-a-truck by revving the engine while it backfired continuously. It was right outside my window. To my surprise, I didn’t open the window to yell profanities, probably because I was too exhausted. I got up and went to the Denny’s which is conveniently located in each Sandman hotel. This morning I ate with Angus. It’s really interesting to see what football players eat for breakfast. This is what I learned. Most of them ate oatmeal, although Geroy admitted he “eats it but does’t like it” but knows its good for him. Many of them ate fresh fruit and the big guys ate their serving of eggs, some mixing their four eggs up with two regular and two egg whites. They are very conscious of what they need to eat to fuel themselves as athletes, even while this is more or less off-season. They were also very consciencious of how the pace of the travel was affecting their eating patterns. I started to realize it was REALLY important to ensure the boys were fed at regular intervals and not junk food. It had to be nutritious or protein-related.
Our first stop of the day was to Kamloops South Secondary where approximately 300 students were waiting to great both the players and the Cup. This school was also home to a solid football team that was more than thrilled at a chance to meet their heroes in person.
From here, it was time to gas-up and head out on the road to Prince George. I was sooooo thankful to have the sunshine and completely cleared roads. At any given time, we could have had snow or ice but we had gorgeous sunshine on the road. I realized while driving, how remote we were, with many times cell phone reception being non-existent. I had many dropped phone calls while trying desperately to set up or address issues along the route. I also found it very interesting to see some of the road signs that showed “badger crossing”. What? It’s not like someone is going to be able to stop if a badger is crossing, I can see deer, elk or moose but badger? “Honey badger don’t care, he’s a badass”. Ok. I digress.
We made it to 100 Mile House in one piece with no badger’s under the tire to my knowledge. I have to say, the small towns were the best to visit. They pull out all stops and are so appreciative that their community was picked for a stop. As soon as we arrived at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School, the leadership kids greeted us. The girls were dressed as a combination cheerleader and football player – with shoulder pads under their t-shirts and black paint under their eyes. They escorted everyone to the gym where a whopping 500 people from the school and community waited to cheer on the BC Lions and the Grey Cup. There was a group of Special Olympic participants who were so excited to see the players, it was adorable. 100 Mile House wins the award for the most spirit, it was so uplifting to see.
Our next stop was Williams Lake with yet another auditorium filled with 500 fans. Unfortunately we only had an hour, virtually impossible to pump the entire fans through an autograph session. There were some interesting moments here. One fellow had memorabilia from the BC Lions from decades earlier and wanted to share them with Scott Ackles (photo below). It was definitely one of the more intense places we visited. Nevertheless, the impact these stops have on a community was evident by their enthusiastic response.
After leaving Williams Lake, we drove the three hour drive to Prince George. Again, conditions were good, snow was on the ground but not on the road. As soon as it got dark though, it was evident that we were driving in the North. No lights, no centre line and just the lights from logging trucks heading right for you! Our high beams on the vans were not functioning, not ideal of course. We made it on time to check into our hotel, a gorgeous Sandman hotel, and I’m not saying that sarcastically, these are “Signature” suites and they were fantastic. At each stop with a Sandman hotel we received a small package in our room with goodies. At this location we received a ceramic Sandman travel mug!
Our final two events for the evening began at the Pine Centre Mall. We had 200 adoring fans waiting to have their souvenir shirts, hats and posters signed and have their pictures taken with the Grey Cup. We finished the evening with another KidSport Fundraiser at Shooters Pub with a small but enthusiastic crowd of BC Lions fans. It was very chilly out and I was so thrilled to know I was flying home tomorrow to warmer weather and soon my own bed.
Day 6 (Prince George – Prince George – Prince George – Whiterock)
Our day began with a hurried breakfast before heading to Duchess Park High School and then to the Prince George Native Friendship Centre. This was one of my favourite stops. As is the aboriginal tradition, food was offered and not just muffins and coffee. There were shrimp cocktails, delicately made desserts and fruit cups. Needless to say, I think this was Angus’s favourite spot as well! There was even plenty of bannock to take with us.
It was at this stop that J.R. gave such a touching story about his connection with the aboriginal community. J.R. was raised on a reserve and shared many of the same stories of those present in the room. He was raised by his mom who had been fighting substance abuse. He had a choice to make, go down the path of destruction or find a way out. That’s where sport and football saved him. He harnessed all of his energy and stress on doing sports and he was proud to say he is now a Grey Cup Champion. There was hardly a dry eye in the place. These guys are fabulous speakers and ambassadors for sport.
This mornings activities were rushed. From the first school to the Friendship Centre (with a quick stop at a radio station) to another school and then to the airport, all before lunch. The last school was Prince George Secondary which we had arranged with very short notice. I walked into the school in advance of the rest of the group as we were running a little late, as was the Cup, and found an auditorium packed with about 500 excited high school kids. The players arrived and we began our routine, waiting anxiously for the Grey Cup to arrive in time. When it arrived, it was rushed to the front of the auditorium by one of the teachers to the thunderous cheers of the students.
Following this event, we were running late for our flight but no problem, the airport knew we were coming and were pulling out the stops to make sure we made our flight (they wanted their picture with the Grey Cup). I got a chuckle out of watching grown men and women jump with glee at the sight of the Grey Cup and the chance to meet some of their football heroes.
Day 6 was complete with another KidSport Fundraiser at Boston Pizza in Whiterock.
Day 7 (Cloverdale – Surrey – Surrey – Whiterock)
Well, the final day was upon us and we all were pumped to finish on a high note. We started at the Cloverdale arena where a modest crowd of about 100 came to see the Cup and the players, we even had the Saturday morning kids’ soccer teams drop in for visits. We finished up and headed off to a luncheon with the Surrey Titans, a young football team thrilled to meet their idols. And then finally the last formal event of the day was at the Central City Mall in Surrey where a fan collapsed while waiting to meet his favourite team and Cup. As the gentleman recovered and was taken away on a stretcher, two BC Lions players, Geroy Simon and J.R. LaRose came over to personally meet him and take a few pictures. He was thrilled. The day was complete with a final stop at the Fleetwood Arms Pub for another KidSport event.
This was one exhausting week of work with days starting at 7 and ending at 10 at night. It was also very rewarding to see how sport can influence communities and individuals in a positive way. I’ve always believed in the power of sport and its impact on changing people for the better. You don’t have to be an Olympian to have the benefits, you can just be you and strive to be better in many ways.