- BC Games
Pilot saves the day for students
When Tracey Lieuwen headed out onto the dark Ladner roads at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning earlier this month, she could never have guessed the wild ride she was in for. She was driving her daughter Emily, 16, and her friend Nadia Langenberg, 17, down to Bellingham to write their first SAT exam at Western Washington University.
With an unexpected 45-minute border crossing lineup, the girls barely made the deadline for the five-hour exam. It might have been no problem, except the girls had an important soccer game on Vancouver Island at 6 p.m. and they had to make a mad dash for the 3 p.m. Tsawwassen ferry.
“It was a crazy day, they had just finished a five-hour exam and I don’t think mentally they were quite prepared to be heading off to a soccer game,” says Lieuwen.
Coach Bob Birarda of the Girls U17 Coastal FC soccer team had rescheduled a noon kick-off in Victoria to allow five players to write the SAT, expecting everybody at the ferry terminal at 2:45 p.m. The girls got dressed in their soccer gear as they raced for the border.
Lieuwen thought they were going to make it, until she saw the massive lineup headed back into Canada.
A 35-minute wait and another furious dash to the ferry terminal was in vain. They were five minutes late. Without Nadia and Emily onboard the team didn’t have enough players and would have to forfeit the game to the Vancouver Island Wave. That’s when parent Jeff Derksen worked on a rescue plan.
“He’s much more than a supportive parent,” says Lieuwen, recalling the frantic phone calls. “He’s kind of the lifeblood of this team and has been for a number of years.”
After speaking to his friend Jack Pomerlau at the Boundary Bay airport, Derksen was told pilot Russell Cmolik had agreed to fly him, Nadia, and Emily to Victoria in his helicopter. The girls, who had never been in a helicopter before, took in the breathtaking vistas as they hurtled toward Victoria. Twenty-five minutes later they touched down in the harbour and jumped into a taxi cab to reach the University of Victoria.
Not only did the team get to play, they went on to win 4-0, with Emily scoring the fourth goal.
“There were many humanitarians during this adventure but Russell Cmolik stands out as a truly generous human—even arriving late for his dinner engagement due to this unexpected flight,” says Lieuwen.
Cmolik wouldn’t even accept payment, asking only that they donate to his charity, The Cmolik Foundation, which provides scholarships to B.C. students who do not have the financial means to attend post-secondary school.
Lieuwen said with so many team members striving for higher knowledge that day, it was perfectly appropriate they help donate so others may as well.