Simon Ibell was to deliver the keynote address this morning, at the 10th annual Vikes Championship Breakfast fundraiser in CARSA gym, on a campus that he felt helped nurture him.
Ibell, who died May 26 at age 39, will not be at the dais but his spirit certainly will be.
“The money raised goes to UVic student-athletes for tuition, books, food and equipment and that gives them more time to prepare for high-level sports. Simon knew how important that was,” said Ian Hyde-Lay, who will speak on Ibell’s behalf today.
The annual fundraising breakfast has collected more than $3.3 million for Vikes athletics in less than a decade.
Although Ibell couldn’t play sports, he served as Vikes men’s basketball manager while earning a degree in leisure services during his five years at UVic, including with the 1997 national championship squad. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from UVic in 2012, a recognition he cherished.
“It was an incredible honour because UVic was such a pivotal place for me in both terms of schooling and managing the Vikes,” he said at the time.
Ibell’s connection to sports began when he was bullied in Grade 8 at St. Michaels University School and three people came to his aid. They were Grade 12 basketball stars Steve Nash and Milan Uzelac, along with coach Hyde-Lay.
Ibell became student-manager of the basketball teams at SMUS, following through at UVic with Vikes, and later with the Nash-captained Canadian team in the years leading up to the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.
He suffered from Hunter Syndrome, a genetic condition also known as MPS II, which limited Ibell’s growth to four-foot-eight. He had only met one other person with the affliction. Life expectancy is tragically short. Doctors told his parents he would not live past age five and were astounded by Ibell’s longevity, describing him as a “best-case scenario.”
“Simon had defied the odds so many times that we fell into a trap thinking he would live to be 80,” said Hyde-Lay, of the shock many felt when Ibell died suddenly in May.
“Simon loved his time at UVic, and with the Vikes basketball team, and that’s why [today] would have been so meaningful to him,” said Hyde-Lay, who plans to still make it just that.
“He was a battler and fought hard for his life, never felt sorry for himself and always thought of others first. Those are the characteristics he embodied and that I want to focus on [in the speech today].”
Among the many projects Ibell undertook to raise funds and awareness was cycle the length of Vancouver Island, from Port Hardy to Victoria, in 2002. When he came into the home stretch, Ibell was joined by an honour guard comprising two of the Island's greatest athletes, with two-time NBA MVP Nash riding on one side and Olympic gold-medallist triathlete Simon Whitfield on the other. Ibell’s ride raised $250,000 for research into rare diseases.