North Vancouver’s Nora and Arden Goddard-Despot and the rest of the Canadian team get another shot at a tournament that was suddenly canceled by the Omicron variant.
It was a dream come true, then a nightmare, then a bizarre event bordering on a real international crisis.
And now two siblings from North Vancouver are hoping to start all over again, minus the nightmarish part.
Arden and Nora Goddard-Despot were two of five players from North Shore – the others were Bronwyn Bird, Brooke McCusker and Grace Delmotte – who joined the Junior Women’s National Field Hockey Team during a trip to South Africa. South for the Junior World Cup, scheduled for December 2021, the first time the team has traveled to the tournament since 2013.
The tournament, which would have been the highlight of their young career, suddenly became a truly frightening and uncertain situation as the Omicron variant of COVID-19, first detected in South Africa, began its rapid spread shortly after. time after the arrival of the teams in the field. The event took place in a single day, Nora said.
“It was a very quick escalation,” she said. “I remember the morning it happened, we went to lunch as a team and heard about a new variation. People were worried about it. Then kind of in the middle of the day we had teams that gave up. And then at the end of the day, the World Cup was canceled. It was in the space of 10 hours that everything crashed and burned.
The players were amazed.
“It was devastating,” Nora said. “We have worked so hard to get here. … Everyone was super excited and focused and locked in. There was just a really good energy with the team. And then it was a bit like having the wind ripped from your sails. Our coaches told us [it was cancelled], and I just remember there was silence for a minute. And you could hear the girls start to cry, and we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. And then that night was especially tough, and the day after was really, really tough too.
Arden, Nora’s younger sister, was about to compete internationally for Team Canada for the first time in her life.
“It was just devastating,” she said. “You have the chance to go and play your first international matches, and it’s like it’s lost forever.”
The team regrouped in a matter of days and the Canadian coaches turned the trip into a training camp, using time from their suddenly opened schedules wisely. But as the sting of missing the tournament began to wear off, they slowly became aware of another potentially even more volatile situation: they couldn’t leave South Africa. As the world returned to high alert, particularly with regard to South Africa, the team found no flights to bring them home. It felt a bit like March 2020, the very beginning of the pandemic panic, again, the sisters said.
“Countries were closing their borders to flights from South Africa,” Nora said. “It was like, OK, we think we can go to Germany, or we can go into Switzerland, and things kept moving and rebooking, and rules were put in place, and there was definitely days where you kind of just sat there and felt a little hopeless.
Air Canada was working hard to get them home, Nora said, but it was a difficult situation, and it took nearly three weeks after they arrived in South Africa before they could finally get on a plane and leave the country. country.
“I felt nervous until we were on Canadian soil,” Nora said of the trip home.
“It was such a relief,” Arden added. “It was a lot to go through mentally, and then when you’re home, you feel like you can finally breathe deeply. I loved being in a [Calgary] hotel room with Nora for three days and just seeing her beautiful face every day.”
And now the team is returning to the same location for the same tournament, although they hope all the drama will be played out on the pitch rather than off. There were also roster changes, with several players unable to attend, leaving Arden and Nora as the only two North Shore players to make the trip. The tournament will take place from April 1-12, at the same premises in Potchefstroom, South Africa. It will be a bit strange to go back, the sisters said, but also comforting in a way, because they have been there before and know what to expect.
“It feels a little weirdly like home advantage because we had this opportunity to train there,” Nora said. “It’s a very strange feeling to go back, but I’m very excited.”
Another hurdle to overcome is that the program is largely self-funded, which means players have to do a lot of fundraising – usually by contacting friends and family – to be able to travel and play. And there were no refunds offered after the first trip to South Africa, so the bills are piling up and they have to fundraise again.
“People have been incredibly generous and kind,” Nora said. “But it was a little more difficult this time. I definitely feel a little bad at times – I think the Canadian in me comes out a little bit, and I’m like, “Oh god, sorry” – but everyone has been so generous and awesome. But it sure is hard. »
Donations to help fund the trip back to South Africa can be made on the CanadaHelps charity webpage here for Nora and here for Arden.