During some intense pre-Olympic training this spring, Hayley Wickenheiser and her teammates wore T-shirts adorned with the words “dig a little deeper,” a motto meant to push the 27 players attending Canada’s National Women’s Team boot camp in Penticton, B.C. beyond their limits – and inspire them to be the very best they can.
When flood waters washed over southern Alberta in late June, shortly after Wickenheiser had arrived home from boot camp, she pulled on that black Hockey Canada shirt, put on her rubber boots and joined her fellow Calgarians as they started the long journey of cleaning up their homes and streets, and recovering from the emotional and physical devastation left in the wake of a natural disaster unlike anything the area has seen in a century.
“I was wearing those shirts in the first few days that we were out there,” Wickenheiser said of banding together with a group of friends after the unprecedented rain and river waters hit June 20 and 21, to help out some of Calgary’s hardest hit areas. “We had just finished the boot camp, and it was about digging a little deeper when you’re tired, or when things aren’t going great.”
The motto took on both figurative and literal meanings for Wickenheiser, who joined local non-profit group DeliverGood in neighbourhoods such as Bowness and Elbow Park, taking on duties ranging from shovelling muck out of basements to ripping out water-logged drywall and insulation, and just about everything in between – while getting plenty muddy along the way.
“When I saw it with my own eyes, I was pretty taken aback with how bad it was,” Wickenheiser said of witnessing just how widespread the destruction was immediately after the floods hit. “The first day in Bowness, it was like a war zone – cop cars, fire trucks, people wandering the streets … and the amount of water in the homes.”
What she saw motivated Wickenheiser and friends to spring into action, with requests for help being sent out through Facebook and Twitter, and concerned citizens of all sorts quickly answering the social media call. Wickenheiser even Tweeted out a picture of that Team Canada garment that had been so well-used during this spring’s boot camp, writing to her followers that, “this shirt says it all.”
“Tough times don’t last,” she Tweeted. “Tough people do.”
The social media storm has “really mobilized people,” Wickenheiser said, adding that helpful folks have responded to her online presence in various ways, from dropping off equipment such as shop vacuums to houses that need them and having pizza delivered to the streets where hungry homeowners and volunteers have been working away, to making the trek into Calgary to help do some of the heavy-lifting.
“We had girls that drove down from Fort Saskatchewan for the day,” Wickenheiser said of a pair of sisters who impressed her with their generosity. Even Hockey Night in Canada’s Kelly Hrudey came back to Calgary following a long trip on the road covering NHL playoffs, after seeing Wickenheiser’s social media requests. “He and his wife helped for three or four days.”
“I think I was in the Toronto airport and I saw a Tweet from Hayley Wickenheiser about how she was volunteering,” National Men’s Team alumnus Hrudey told Hockey Canada. “I just sent her a text or an email and said … ‘how can I help or what can I do?’ ”
Wickenheiser hooked Hrudey up with the team at DeliverGood, an organization founded by local philanthropist Robb Price and run in part by project manager Trina Radcliffe, with the objective of connecting donors with charities. The hockey celebrity took his “marching orders,” showed up on Edison Crescent in southwest Calgary, and picked up a shovel. In fact, Hrudey and wife Donna spent their 29th anniversary, June 30, tearing out floors and hauling debris.
“It turned out to be one of our best anniversaries ever,” Hrudey said of a unique experience that left a lasting impression. “I saw good, honest people helping everybody else out.”
“As hard as it was to see the devastation,” he said, “it was absolutely heartwarming to be part of the volunteers.”
Hrudey said the words “dig a little deeper” undoubtedly apply firsthand to the volunteer efforts he’s seen across the city. “The enormous courage and strength and teamwork by everybody to help out the people that were devastated by the flood; I think that motto fits perfectly.”
The local hockey community hasn’t just been helping with relief efforts – it has also been detrimentally impacted by the flood. Past Hockey Canada chair Mike Bruni, who lives in the Elbow Drive area of Calgary, saw his basement destroyed by the river and rain waters, while Team Canada alumnus Sheldon Kennedy’s townhouse in Erlton, the inner-city area of Calgary, and farm on Highwood River, suffered extensive damage in the flood. And of course, murky water filled Calgary Flames home arena the Saddledome up to the tenth row.
“The hockey world is a small one, and a community that really has a sense of family … we know what it’s like to have your teammates or your fellow friends come together,” Hockey Canada manager of schools programs Kevin Bathurst, who has made a point of volunteering in every affected Calgary area, said of the sports community’s natural instinct of coming together in times of need.
Whether it’s Team Canada equipment manager Robin McDonald carrying truckloads of debris to the dump in a cube van normally used to transport Hockey Canada supplies, or Hayley Wickenheiser bringing players and fans alike to lend a hand, Bathurst emphasized it’s important “to help our neighbours.”
But there’s still “a lot of work to be done,” Bathurst added.
“It’s easy to motivate yourself in the first couple of days to get out there and give a hand,” he said, “but people are going to have to dig down pretty deep inside to continue to work.”
Wickenheiser agrees completely. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and people are going to need help for a very long time,” she said. “If you don’t know where to help, just got to the affected areas and bring your boots and your hands, and there’s work to do.”
The Hockey Canada Foundation Celebrity Classic gala and golf tournament, originally scheduled for June 24-25 in Calgary, has been rescheduled to Aug. 19-20 due to the floods, with $250,000 in proceeds from the event to go toward relief efforts in southern Alberta. Kennedy is co-chair of this year’s gala, along with fellow Team Canada alumnus Lanny McDonald, who has also been spotted helping out around town, including in the Rideau Park area of southwest Calgary.
Additionally, about fifty staff members based out of Hockey Canada’s main office at Canada Olympic Park will join DeliverGood for a day of helping out flood victims in High River, Alta., on Wednesday, July 17. To find out how you can lend a hand, please visit www.DeliverGood.org, “like” DeliverGood at www.Facebook.com/DeliverGood and follow DeliverGood at www.Twitter.com/DeliverGood.