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Liberia – The Trip of a Lifetime

charity, FAM By December 18, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , 3 Comments

Right To Play ParentAnd then there was the week that I didn’t really sleep.  Olympian Kaylyn Kyle and I were behind in votes.  I called in a ton of favours and spread the message in creative (and largely annoying) ways.  Friends knew how important Liberia was to me and would ask daily about vote count.  As I had an emotional drop-off of one of my kids at school, a mom embraced me and encouraged me to share about my children and my life.  During our conversation I shared about “Level The Field” and her eyes lit up.  She had worked for the Swedish Olympic team for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and is very familiar with the organization and the benefit of sports for kids.  Rocking her newborn in the stroller, she mentioned that she had a few friends in the sports field (that was a pun..) and would reach out to them to help our cause for Health in Liberia.

Fast forward.  Several days after the contest closed I was practicing square breathing and coaxing myself to carry on with life.  My friends and colleagues didn’t want to ask too much.  I was clearly distracted.  I got the email indicating I would go to Liberia while headed to the gym and became one of those people on her phone during an hour of cardio I hadn’t really noticed.  (I joked with Kaylyn that if we were to travel together she’d put my abs to shame).  Could it be true?  Could Liberia have won – when George Weah, one of Liberia’s most famous humanitarian athletes was a footballer as well?  Liberia needs so much support after recent years of civil war.  200,000 people have died and it ranks amongst the poorest nations on the planet.  Inequality.  Sexual crimes.  Disease.  The women, children and the handicapped youth need the teachings of inclusiveness that Right To Play can offer.

A few days later I was on a press trip to Ottawa and was about to tour the Canadian Parliament Buildings when I got another email announcing the voter who had won the chance to accompany the group on our expedition.  Her name is Lori Harasem and she lives in Alberta.  With three kids she finds time to work as the Recreation and Culture Development Manager for the City of Lethbridge and volunteers too.

Apparently Lori and I had a mutual friend.  Could it be?  I sent a covert text to my friend from my sons’ school to see if she knew Lori.  Apparently they were childhood friends and Lori was described as an extremely special, caring and loyal woman with a true believe and love of sport and play.  I tingled head to toe.  And then I toured the crucible of Canadian law and government feeling the importance of community, integrity and outreach.  The stately building made me realize even further that our position as Canadians allows us to help other nations – other children.  I am so honoured to be an ambassador for Right To Play.  To represent my country and to help children smile.  Somehow my kids’ Christmas lists don’t seem very pressing.

As I expressed to the other parent ambassadors when we were simultaneously told the news, I have been humbled just to be chosen to participate in the Level The Field program.  The prestigious group of parents who participated did a stellar job, and I still marvel at the work put in and the exposure that was given to the organization.  The true winners are the kids that we will be able to support through awareness and future donations.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all 6 West African nations could have oodles of funds flowing in?  I know that Right To Play is dear to all of our hearts now and hopefully in time we will all be able to help all of the 6 countries.  in the Level The Field program and the 20 countries Right To Play works in across the world.  If you would like to receive the Right To Play newsletter, you can subscribe on their website.

I told my schoolyard mom friend the news and the next day she cornered me as we waited for the bell.  Her son wants to start raising money to send soccer balls with me to Liberia.  He has a plan.  He’s 7.  And clearly very special.

Let the journey begin!

Kaylyn Kyle

A day in the life of Canadian soccer star Kaylyn Kyle

LIVE, play By November 28, 2012 Tags: , , , , 1 Comment

And then she learned the cha cha.  Kaylyn Kyle isn’t lacking for much.  A bronze medal in soccer for Canada’s National team in the 2012 London Olympic Games.  A coveted spot with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC.  The honour of being a Right To Play Athlete Ambassador.  The ability to make others smile with her amazing savvy social media interactions.  (And of course the long blond hair and being named multiple times as one of the most eligible women in Canada.)  Kaylyn is currently learning the cha cha for a Saskatchewan charity gala similar to ‘Dancing With The Stars’.

A lover of action and being outdoors, Kaylyn is akin to the energizer bunny.  She works with her trainer from 11 – 2:30pm every weekday, alternating 3 bouts of cardio with weight training and finishing with an abdominal workout.  (PS.  When you Google her you’ll see that it’s been pretty effective).  I was thrilled to hear that she’s not a napper (neither am I) and that she takes any chance she can get to hit the mountains in any type of weather.

Fitness and well-being are clearly incorporated into every aspect of her life and since having started with Right to Play as an Athlete Ambassador, she mentions that she is now pursuing the only thing she hadn’t yet accomplished.  When asked in an interview what was lacking from her life, she mentioned working for an organization such as Right to Play.  After her comment was published in a Toronto newspaper, she immediately received a call from the organization with an offer to join them on a trip to Liberia to see Right To Play programs in action.

When I asked what Liberia was like, she compared it to her Olympic win in terms of the impact on her life.  “It wasn’t the image of poverty that I brought home with me.  It was the words of the children.  I have never heard such gratitude expressed in such beautiful ways.”

Having started to play soccer at the age of six, her dream was to be an Olympian.  When asked about her bronze medal win?  “The best day of my life”.  Now that the new North American Women’s Soccer League has been announced – 16 Canadian athletes will be a part of the team – Kaylyn is sure to enjoy a lot more wins.

A self-proclaimed tattoo addict, Kyle seems to cherish meaning in every moment.  Her tattoos represent special places and events.   One is from Dublin where her sister lives and you can guess the meaning of the Olympic rings.  Her latest is ‘Believe in Yourself’. It’s funny how people meet.  We were randomly paired together as a team in the Level The Field program for Right To Play at a challenging time in my life, and that particular quote is what I needed to hear.

There was so much that I didn’t expect when I was asked to participate in “Level The Field” to raise awareness about health in Liberia.  I didn’t expect to feel the physical grief I do when I hear that a child dies every 26 seconds from preventable disease.  I didn’t expect to be completely inspired to exercise and strive for my dreams from a professional athlete who is… a few… years my junior.  And I didn’t ever expect the cause to be so important to me that so many other things would fall to the side as I harassed friends and family to show their support and vote.  It’s been a bit shocking – both my passion and the community’s reaction.  Many of my friends have set calendar reminders to vote daily and have sent me emails and texts with great facts on Liberia. I’ve been touched and awed by the other parent ambassadors who are working so hard to raise awareness about Right To Play and the work they do.  I’ve been riveted by the little voices talking about play on the Right To Play video.  And I have been inspired by Kaylyn.

Given that my Olympic debut is unlikely… (karaoke isn’t a sport right?), I would give anything to accompany her on her next journey to Liberia in order to see a program in action and help make an impact on a society that needs play and laughter.

Next stop?  The tattoo parlor.  Maybe.