Canada rugby duo raise their game, step up to help in hard times

With their Tokyo Olympic dreams on hold for a year, Canadian team rugby sevens players Pam Buisa and Caroline Crossley have used the pandemic break to help others.

Buisa and Crossley have created the Vancouver Island Steps Up community relief fund, which has raised $15,229 in three weeks for local people struggling financially due to COVID-19.

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It’s not that Crossley and Buisa are doing well themselves. Their national team training support payments, which amounted to about $20,000 annually, were cancelled May 1 due to the pandemic. It’s a pretty selfless act to help others when you are yourself hurting monetarily.

“I see it more that I am privileged to be able to represent Canada and to travel the world doing so,” said Buisa.

“With that privilege comes a certain amount of responsibility. So this is about supporting the community that supports us in allowing us to do what we do.”

The lower Island is home to 10 national-team training centres, including Rugby Canada’s at Westhills Stadium, with more than 60 Island or Island-based athletes expected to compete in the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, to be staged in the summer of 2021.

While the amount raised by Crossley and Buisa might seem modest compared to the millions of dollars raised for pandemic relief by other funds, it must be remembered it is a cleat-straps, grassroots operation in the truest sense.

“This has been a period of transition for us. With the Olympics postponed, we asked ourselves: ‘What do we do with our time now?’ ” said Buisa.

“We brainstormed and made this happen.”

Many of the Canadian team players have returned to their home communities during the pandemic. Crossley is from Oak Bay. Buisa is from Gatineau, Que., and starred for the University of Victoria, where she helped out with the school’s annual giving program, while starring four seasons for the Vikes.

Crossley and Buisa started the Vancouver Island Steps Up fund along with friends Ciel Arbour-Boehme, Emily Percival-Paterson and Shayli Robinson. The group vets each application and awards the relief funds based on urgency of need and ability, or lack thereof, to access other forms of support. All the money raised goes to the applicants, who must reside on the Island. Donations and applications can go through the Vancouver Island Steps Up website. The initiative also has a GoFundMe page.

“It’s important for us to be able to help our community where we live and train and which supports us,” said Crossley.

This is not something anybody could have envisioned just two months ago.

“The Olympic postponement was devastating to hear. There was a rush of emotion,” Buisa said.

“But it was a good move by the Canadian Olympic Committee to be the first to say that it puts the safety of its athletes first and foremost and that it wouldn’t be sending a team to Tokyo this year. That was followed by a period of sadness of what the future will look like.”

That has given way to a sense of optimism that the Tokyo Olympics next year will stand as the celebratory cornerstone of the recovery and be one of the most notable and stirring sporting events in history because of that.

“We have a new date [July 23 to Aug. 8, 2021] and it will be a time to compete and celebrate,” said Buisa.

“It has pushed me even more toward my Olympic goal and my drive has increased as I look to next year.”

While in the meantime offering a helping hand to the community that she says is helping propel her toward Tokyo.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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