Sports offer chance to reconnect tornado-struck communities

Todd Nicholson and Emily Glossop lost their home in the Dunrobin tornado, but as they grappled with insurance and temporary housing, their thoughts kept turning to sports.

“Sport and recreation were not top of anybody’s priority list,” Emily recalls. “A roof, clothes and food were the priorities.”

No surprise there. But the couple felt sports could be another element in rebuilding shattered communities.

“I think it was pretty early on after the tornado that the conversation started about what can we do to engage families in all three (affected) areas — Dunrobin, Arlington Woods and Gatineau — and get them back into the things that they love to do.”

On Saturday, a couple of hundred people gathered at West Carleton Secondary School to kick off a remarkable partnership, with roughly 30 sports and recreation groups offering places to children and families that otherwise could not afford such luxuries.

It is sponsored by three local sports organizations: Their Opportunity, Own the Podium and the Ottawa Senators Foundation.

“The idea of this initiative is rebuilding communities through sport,” said Randy Gill, president of Their Opportunity. The various clubs and teams “are either providing free spaces in their programs, or subsidized programs.”

There are team sports such as hockey and football, and recreational settings such as Mount Pakenham and the Ottawa River Canoe Club.

The campaign is also hoping to raise $30,000 through donations. Information on how to donate or volunteer is at TheirOpportunity.com/rcts.

Lucy Bridgstock attended the launch in a walking cast after breaking her ankle when she want back to the ruined Dunrobin house a week after the tornado, and fell.

She is hoping to have skiing, and perhaps touch football, for her children Aimee, 13, and Ollie, 11.

Insurance pays for rebuilding the new home, she said, but the tornado also blew away the skis, the baseball gloves, the tennis racquets.

“It’s probably all somewhere on Sixth Line.”

“There are lots of extra additional costs that nobody is aware of, and that you don’t think about until you’re in that situation,” she said.

“To have something like today that will allow the children to be registered in a sport … and not have that added financial burden” is wonderful, she said. “To even just go out and buy extra (sports) equipment is just not an option at the moment. Insurance takes a while. Ski season is going to come before insurance pays up.”

Aimee also wants to join a touch football team.

And Lucy said the drive to establish these new sports opportunities has helped the children reconnect with neighbours who have been scattered by the storm. The Bridgstocks are about a 10-minute drive from their old home, but many families have moved much farther.

Todd Nicholson said the weeks have allowed their family to recognize how hard the storm hit them psychologically. On the night of Sept. 21, police were stopping cars from entering Dunrobin, so Emily got out of the car and ran to their home.

Later she had no memory of those moments. Didn’t remember the shattered homes around her, or the debris, or anything else that she ran past. She only remembered getting back to the home where firefighter friends had rescued her knapsack with her laptop and a few other basic essentials.

And they rescued Happy the goldfish, in his little bowl.

“He totally survived the tornado and we don’t know how,” she said. “He’s in a much larger tank with a filter and everything now.”


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