COVID-19 puts coach Clarke’s Olympic dreams, Rams humanitarian trip to Uganda on hold

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By Gavin Axelrod

COVID-19 has impacted the Ryerson Rams women’s basketball team’s summer plans as head coach Carly Clarke will have to wait another year to make her Olympic dreams a reality, while the team has been forced to cancel its humanitarian trip to Uganda. 

An assistant coach with the Canadian Senior Women’s National Team—Clarke and Team Canada punched their ticket to the Olympics this past February at the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ostend, Belgium.

“For me, it was my first [time] qualifying for the Olympics,” said Clarke, “It was an exciting moment for everybody.” 

Despite COVID-19 escalating in China, Clarke didn’t initially see the virus threatening her summer plans.

“I remember in Belgium, we had talked about it once like, ‘Good thing it’s not over here.’ Obviously things escalated very quickly,” said Clarke. “As soon as things shut down, it started to become more real that [the Olympic cancellation] was a possibility.” 

On March 22, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) announced no athletes would be sent to Tokyo. 

Clarke said the initial announcement by the COC and CPC came as a bit of a surprise. 

“We all strongly believe and know it was the right decision, but it was certainly a hard one to hear at the moment,” said Clarke. “You thought the Olympics could maybe be going on without you at that point.” 

Two days later, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo were officially postponed until 2021. 

Team Canada dominated the tournament finishing undefeated with a 3-0 record. 

However, the Summer Games in Tokyo weren’t the only plans Clarke had cancelled in wake of the pandemic. 

In October, the Ryerson Rams women’s basketball team partnered with Basket Plus and set a goal of raising $12,000 to build a well in Kamengo, Uganda. The team ended up raising $8,000 before pausing the initiative due to COVID-19. 

“Although [Basket Plus] wasn’t super prevalent, it was nice to know that something bigger than basketball was going on throughout the season,” said fourth-year forward Bronwyn Williams. “It’s a great way to look beyond ourselves.” 

Williams and her teammates were scheduled to travel to Uganda this month. Now, the trip has been cancelled for the foreseeable future. 

While Williams admits that it was difficult to avoid being disappointed, she said the cancelled trip shouldn’t take anything away from the team’s fundraising.

“A big part of the initiative was to see what we did in action,” said Williams. “The money is still going towards that so it’s not the end of the world.” 

The team is looking at travelling to Uganda at the end of next season, according to Clarke.  

With the world of sports grinding to a never before seen halt, numerous athletes and coaches have been forced to adapt and find new routines. 

“As individuals, we need to figure out what works best for us,” said Clarke. “For some people that means seeking lots of connections every single day, working out really hard; for other people, it might mean more alone time.” 

Although the current climate has changed the way the team operates and the way they’ve been recruiting, Clarke believes it’s an opportunity to learn. 

“It’s a great chance to build some resiliency,” said Clarke. “There’s lots of different things that are being affected both individually and beyond and being disrupted. [But] how we come through and work through those things, I think, is an opportunity to build a skill.” 

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