Sunday, 2 November 2014

Regina will always be home

Trip for McCrystal’s final home game as Rams head coach triggers a flood of memories

The Mosaic Stadium big screen sign for Frank McCrystal.
You never forget the place that had the biggest influence of forming who you are.
            During the past year, I had returned to Regina on numerous occasions, but my visit to the Saskatchewan capital was different this past weekend. I made the two-and-a-half hour drive from Saskatoon to the Queen City on Saturday to watch Frank McCrystal work his final home game on the sidelines as the head coach of the University of Regina Rams.
            McCrystal was the first person in my life I met who was a life coach, and he had a big impact on me. That fact was only part of what made this trip special.
When I reached the city limits, I was on a stroll down memory lane. Everything came back to me be in flashbacks on the personal, school, work and social fronts. At times, it can feel overwhelming.
            I was born in Winnipeg and have lived in Regina, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Medicine Hat. I spent two stints in Regina, which included living there a year for Grade 1 and spending six years there from 1995-2001.
            During the latter stay, I attended the University of Regina and went through what I considered was the biggest time of personal growth for myself. As a result of that growth, I always say I am from Regina, when people ask me where I am from. Every time I return there, it feels like home.
I began writing sports stories for the Carillon, which is the school’s student newspaper, in 1996. That started a five year intensive involvement with the University of Regina’s athletic program most notably with the Cougars basketball teams and the Rams football club. The time with the Rams included the team’s final two seasons in the Canadian Junior Football League and first two seasons in the Canadian university ranks in the body known as Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
That involvement also saw me running patterns as a receiver on the scout team in 2000 for a few weeks, when the injuries piled up at mid-season.
            Over those years, I made what seemed like an endless list of best friends. Everywhere I drive in that town, it seems like every location brings back a memory.
            Mosaic Stadium contains numerous memories. On Saturday, another one was created as the Rams downed the University of Alberta Golden Bears 35-31 in a thrilling contest.
            Old Rams players turned up from what seemed like points all over the map. I got to visit a few people I hadn’t seen in years. Numerous old stories get told, and some of those are likely embellished.
            When a story is told, it usually triggers a memory about something that was often forgotten. The memories usually revolved around various social occasions and also include people from your past you still haven’t seen for a while.
            For me, my visits reinforced how strong my links still are to Regina even after 13 years have passed from the last time I called it my home address.
            In late May, I returned for the celebration of life for my good friend Crystal (Heisler) McGregor, who was a standout point guard for the University of Regina Cougars women’s basketball team that won a then Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union title in 2001. She passed away after a long battle with cancer.
            I spent two days with the members of the Cougars teams McGregor was part of and so many great memories were shared. It also caught me off guard how much I needed to grieve her death.
It was one of those life things you don’t know how to prepare for until it hits you. I feel very fortunate I could make it back for that.
I also felt very fortunate to make it back for McCrystal’s last home games as Rams head coach. It was a happy day as the Rams won and locked up the final berth into the Canada West playoffs.
That turned out to be another moment, where I didn’t realize how much I needed to be there until I was actually there. At that moment in time, I felt I was in the place I needed to be, and see a mentor get his final win on the sidelines at the long time home field of the Rams and CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, which has seen various legendary moments.
I once again learned a new appreciation for the fellowship I had with old friends. Even though years can pass, it really does seem like no time has passed at all when you start visiting.
My years in Regina were a special time and the memories will never go away. Every return visit allows me to appreciate those memories just that much more.

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