More Olympic and international athletes are produced on the Island per capita than in any other region in Canada. Many times I have been privileged to be there to cover their exploits, from Atlanta to Beijing and Manchester to Delhi.
But few newspapers have the resources to staff all the away events, so most times, we conduct our coverage from home base. Those moments, however, have proven just as special and perhaps even more emotional over the years.
With so many Island players on the Canadian team for the 2011 rugby World Cup, I would have loved to have been in New Zealand reporting on it live.
That not being feasible this time around, the Castaway Wanderers clubhouse on Discovery Street proved almost as good a venue for colour and passion, as boisterous crowds jammed in during the wee hours to watch the games.
Perhaps the best moment came that memorable September night when the Castaways clubhouse erupted as Canada defeated Tonga in the World Cup opener.
As the TV images flickered from across the Pacific, the tension mounted unmercifully before giving way to joyous relief and celebration.
It made for great copy as large men stood to sing O Canada and hugged and high-fived after a victory half a world away. It was one of those moments that brought home how sport can be a great unifier.
In that instant, it didnt matter your politics or religion, only the colour of the jersey in a faraway land.
Read the original artcile published Sept. 15, 2011
Plenty of Island flavour to Canada's win
When he saw one of his University of Victoria star players, Adam Kleeberger, jogging in Oak Bay this spring, Vikes rugby coach Doug Tate was not fully convinced Kleeberger would be recovered from serious shoulder surgery in time for the 2011 World Cup.
"Adam looked like he was carrying a piano on his back," said Tate.
Not only did Kleeberger recover in time, but he turned in a monster performance as man of the match - sporting an equally monstrous beard - as 14th-ranked Canada recorded a heart-racing 25-20 win over No. 12 Tonga in Whangarei, New Zealand, to open the World Cup late Tuesday night.
"Adam has done a very good job of getting back into shape after being off five months," said Tate.
"To play 80 minutes with that intensity at international level, with as many tackles as he made, was amazing. He's not a big player but he plays big for his size [six-foot-one, 220 pounds]. He was on a mission. But that beard is wild. It's 1800s style. My wife is not too crazy about it because Adam is such a good-looking guy."
There was plenty else to please Tate as his UVic Vikes captain is also captain of Team Canada in the World Cup, while Vikes alumnus Phil Mackenzie scored the late winning try as Canada, up 10-0 in the first half, fought back from a 20-13 deficit with 14 minutes remaining.
"I'm so proud of the boys and the guts they displayed," said Riordan, in his TV interview. "It shows what Canadian boys can do when they work hard."
Several Island clubs contributed players to the Canadian victory, no more so than the Castaway Wanderers. Players and supporters of the club packed into the CW clubhouse on Discovery Street to watch the pulsating match and felt a personal connection to the drama that unfolded on a pitch across the Pacific.
That's because they did have one. Actually, 11 of them.
"Eleven out of the 30 Canadian players [at the World Cup] have played at least one season for the Castaway Wanderers," said club member Chris Spicer, whose son and former UVic Vikes star Dave Spicer, now in medical school, played for Canada in the last World Cup in 2007 at France.
"That's not bad."
Former CW manager Brent Johnston, also the Canadian team manager but unable to be in New Zealand with the national side because of health issues, shouted: "Stand up, hats off," when O Canada played from Whangarei on the TV before the game.
As the tense, back-andforth affair unfolded on TSN, the gathered in the clubhouse hung on every tackle and lateral pass.
"Chauncey, Chauncey . . ." and "Ander, Ander . . .," they shouted as CW players Chancey O'Toole and Ander Monro made various good plays and showed why the Windsor Park-based club is the defending B.C. champs.
When another CW player, burly forward Jebb Sinclair, scored Canada's first try, the place erupted with cries of: "That's our boy, that's our boy."
They cheered when CW player Nanyak Dala came on for Canada at a key juncture late in the game.
But this was Team Canada and every player was supported vocally regardless of Island club rivalries. The assembled chanted "DTH, DTH . . ." for former James Bay Athletic Association foe DTH van der Merwe and "Grizzly Adams, Grizzly Adams . . ." for Kleeberger and his beard.