During the 2012-13 Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey season, the feel-good story was the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds qualifying for the CIS Nationals. After a one-win season in 2011-12, head coach Graham Thomas orchestrated the greatest turnaround in CIS women’s hockey history, leading the squad to the Canada West title.
For two members of the rejuvenated Thunderbirds, the feelings of happiness and elation from their on-ice glory continued into the offseason off the ice. Christi Capozzi and Stephanie Schaupmeyer were part of a volunteer group of UBC varsity athletes that volunteered their time in El Salvador as part of an initiative led by Habitat for Humanity.
“It was a varsity athletic trip which was led by some UBC basketball alumni. They took 10 varsity athletes down to work on one house,” remarked Capozzi.
Although many of the creature comforts of home were not evident, Capozzi adapted well to her new surroundings for two weeks. “I missed my family and friends, but the food there was really delicious.”
Capozzi had been with the Thunderbirds for several seasons, and experienced the losing that had defined the struggling program. Teamwork proved vital in winning the Canada West championship over the defending CIS National Champion Calgary Dinos, but it also proved to be a quality of great importance in El Salvador.
”Winning the Canada West title was amazing. I was so happy and just part of my team. I had been there through the struggles (in seasons past) and to see that this year, our hard work and training finally paid off was really cool.”
As Capozzi had teammates from the UBC women’s hockey program participate in the El Salvador initiative the summer before, their influence proved positive on Schaupmeyer. As an incoming recruit for the 2012-13 campaign, Schaupmeyer was grateful for the opportunity.
“Last year, two girls from the team, Emily Grainger and Kaitlyn Imai had gone to El Salvador. At the beginning of the year, they urged everyone on the team that was interested to just apply if they were thinking about it. I was lucky enough to get chosen. We went from April 28 to May 13, and we were advised a few weeks before we headed there.”
While the El Salvador experience would enrich her life, Schaupmeyer was late in receiving the news. Due to a miscommunication with an incorrect email address, the rookie phenom would obtain the news in a conversation with her coach.
“Actually, someone had my email wrong and I never got it. Graham pulled me aside and talked to me about El Salvador. He actually informed me and I was so excited. I could not describe it. I was so happy, especially that I was picked during my first year.”
In helping to build a home for a deserving family, the feeling of completion was one that provided Capozzi with a remarkable feeling of happiness and accomplishment. Her greatest reward from the experience was the ability to help improve others' lives.
“I had done a bit of charitable work in the past, but nothing quite like this. I was in El Salvador for two weeks building the house. It was our group, two masons and the son of the family that would live in the house. They were very, very grateful and really nice.
"My reward was seeing and talking to the family who would have the roof over their heads. It was great getting to meet them. I was very excited to see what it really meant to them. To take two weeks out of one’s life and help them, it was truly a life changing experience for them.”
For both Capozzi and Schaupmeyer, the humanitarian effort also resulted in getting the opportunity to know their fellow varsity athletes from UBC. The chance to make new friends only enhanced to the experience of improving the lives of a family in an impoverished part of the world.
“We had not really met any of the other athletes prior to the trip. We got to know the other athletes, such as those involved in rowing and soccer while we were there. It was wonderful and, next season, we will be watching each other competing,” said Schaupmeyer.
Having entered the 2012-13 season as a rookie with raw talent and great enthusiasm, Schaupmeyer finished her inaugural campaign as a polished gem.
Having obtained great maturity from the El Salvador experience, it was the perfect ending to a season that encompassed an enriching series of positive moments, which proved that with teamwork anything is possible. It shall surely transform Schaupmeyer into a remarkable leader and positive influence for years to come.
“Playing in the CIS Nationals was cool. As a rookie arriving in September 2012, it was something we always wanted, but did not know how tough it would be. In the playoffs, two of our series went to a deciding third game, and we proved that we deserved to be there (in the CIS Nationals).
"Our team did well and I am looking forward to the upcoming season. Absolutely, we can continue to win. Since September 2012, having Graham as our new head coach, everything has fallen into place. We know Graham has had the time to find good recruits, and we should be ready for great things next year.”
Having engaged in volunteer work in her hometown of Kelowna, British Columbia, Schaupmeyer was accustomed to bringing joy into the lives of the less fortunate. The overall feeling of the time spent in El Salvador is one that Schaupmeyer firmly believes can rebuff even the most jaded cynic.
“I had done volunteer work before, but it was usually day long events. In Kelowna, I had done Relay for Life. I also helped in an old folks home for awhile. I hope to do more trips like this.
"I think it was a cool experience because you hear people that say one person cannot change someone else’s life. They should have been there (in El Salvador) and met the family we helped. We truly changed their lives in the work we did with Habitat for Humanity.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”