I’ve always looked back at my B.C. Summer Games experience with great fondness. With the B.C. Winter Games just around the corner (February 23-26 in Vernon), I thought I’d write about the wonderful time I had coaching the Kootenay girls basketball team while I lived in Cranbrook.
I’ve coached for over 25 years in Cranbrook, Victoria, Vancouver, Brooks, Alberta, and Castlegar. I’ve coached many great teams at all different levels. I’ve coached teams that finished in the top five at the Provincial Championships and coached players that have played at the college, university and even national team level.
But the Kootenay team from the summer of 2008 is the most special in many ways, even though we only won one game. First off, I had the chance to coach my oldest niece, Caitlin. With a long time coach at the high school, this was my only chance to coach her since elementary. Cait was never the tallest or most athletic, nor was she was the top scorer. But she worked hard and did the little things every team needs like defence and rebounding.
So we had our try-out camp in Cranbrook in May and had a modest turn-out of about 15 girls from throughout the East and West Kootenay. I picked the ten players and alternates and we practiced on weekends. Three of the players (including my niece) were from Cranbrook and the other seven were from the west, including six girls from Grand Forks and one (Laura Monsen) from Castlegar. We had two pre-Summer Games tournaments in Calgary and one in Kamloops and several weekend practices.
It didn’t take long for the players, most of whom had never met before, to become close friends.
Before long it was August and time for the games. The bus left Grand Forks at 5 a.m. for Kelowna. Teenagers may normally detest early mornings, but these girls were wide awake and pumped up – ready for the games.
Everything at the games was big – the opening ceremonies, the dorms, the banquet, meals, and the closing ceremonies.
Our team competed hard and finished fifth. We struggled against the bigger centres such as Vancouver and South Island but we managed to beat North Central. Our last game was against an Okanagan team that had thumped us before by over 20. The game was close the whole way and the girls gave it their all. In the end, we lost by nine but it was a close game and a good way to end the games.
One of our Grand Forks players, Molly Imrie, complained of knee pain. After many doctor visits, it was found that Molly had bone cancer in her knee.
“In 2008, I was a typical 13-year-old girl who loved reading, hanging out with friends, and most of all, playing basketball,” said Molly. “that summer, I drove from Grand Forks to Cranbrook to try out for the Kootenay B.C. Summer Games Basketball team. Try-outs lasted all weekend, and just like everyone else, I was unsure and nervous about making the team.
“At the end of the weekend, I was ecstatic to learn I did make the team and near the end of summer I would go to Kelowna and get the opportunity to play against the best players in the province. As practices, commenced our team got very close and the other girls became my friends. We travelled together to games and for that summer, became like a family. I was so proud to be a part of the team, and although I was having a little trouble with my left knee and was feeling tired all the time, that was one of the most exciting and fun summers of my life.
“When the games were over and school started again, I couldn’t shake the pain in that knee and although I was sleeping all the time, I found myself exhausted after just a short run. It was early October when I went to have an X-Ray done, and the results were not what I expected. Within that month I was sent to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver and diagnosed with Osteogenic Sarcoma: bone cancer.
It was just above my left knee and just so happened to be the same cancer Terry Fox was diagnosed with. I went from being a healthy basketball player to someone who would spend nine months going through chemotherapy in Vancouver and undergoing surgery to remove the tumour.
“I learned very quickly, however, that this would not be a battle I would fight on my own. My basketball team and the local Cops for Kids held a fundraiser that made it possible for my family and me to stay together at Ronald McDonald House during my treatment. Being a part of a team isn’t just about playing a sport, it’s about being there for one another, and my team was there for me when I needed them the most.”
With the support of her friends and family, and the great work of her doctors and nurses, Molly is back at school and hanging out with her friends again.
“I’ve been cancer-free for over two years now, and I am currently a happy, healthy grade 12 student who is very excited to graduate,” she said. “I’ve been accepted to nursing school and hope one day to work with children in oncology. Although my doctors were able to save my leg, I am unable to play competitive basketball (Doctor’s orders!), but I’ll always remember the fun times and lessons learned during my summer with the team.”