Calgary defenseman Robyn Regehr is only 28-years-old, but this past summer he went through quite the life-changing experience. Regehr, along with Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara, traveled to Africa as a part of the Right to Play organization which uses specially designed sport and play programs to improve health, build life skills, and foster peace for children and communities affected by war, poverty, and disease.
Robyn and Zdeno saw the impact of Right to Play’s work first-hand during a visit to Mozambique in southern Africa. The pictures and details of their trip aired on the NHL Network in a one hour special titled: Summer with Zee: Climbing Kilimanjaro.
For those unfamiliar with the situation, Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony affected heavily over the past two decades by war, famine and disease, is one of 23 countries in which Right to Play works across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Recently I sat down with Regehr and asked about how the trip changed him and how hockey fans can get involved with a great cause among other things.
He became involved after speaking with former teammates Andrew Ference and Steve Montador, who visited Right to Play locations in Tanzania two summers ago; which was filmed and shown here in North America on TSN and the NHL Network. “A former teammate of mine, Andrew Ference, who’s now in Boston, he talked to me about it,” explained Regehr, “and I also saw, it was pretty prevalent, at the Winter Olympics in Italy in 2006.”
Regehr had never crossed paths with Chara outside banging bodies on the ice, so naturally I asked if it was strange to go so far away from home with someone that he wasn’t really friends with and what was it like to experience these things. “No, I had never met Zdeno before, I had played against him a number of times, but I didn’t really know him as a person,” said Regehr. “It was a fun trip to go over there and to do the things we did, see the things we saw, which was a blast; and also, getting a chance to meet another player was cool.”
After the first week Regehr headed home to be with his wife who was expecting their first child. But the Bruins captain stayed in Africa and moved onto Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, a six day trek up the 19,300-foot mountain, in which he raised close to $100,000 (roughly $5 for every foot he climbed).
“After I saw the special (on NHL Network) and talked to a few of the guys that went up there, I wasn’t that disappointed,” said Regehr with a grin. “They said that it was an extremely tough thing that they did and also added another eight days to the trip, so I’m glad I went home and relaxed and enjoyed myself.” He also added that his wife’s pregnancy was not the sole reason for heading home, but it was surely a factor.
“Not necessarily, but yes, she was pregnant and we had the baby in October,” he told me (Regehr missed the Flames’ first game of the season and was there for the birth of his first child (boy) on October 9).
He also went on to explain how his life has changed since the trip and the things that stuck out the most for him. “For me, anytime, as a person you go over and see the type of living conditions that they have there in Africa and Mozambique, where we were, it really gives you and readjusts your perception of the world and makes you realize how good things are over here in North America,” he said.
“I think that it’s a very important thing for anyone to go over and do that type of trip maybe every five, six years or so. Also, I got a chance to see firsthand the programs that Right to Play has, and how they operate and, in talking to the coaches who were implementing those programs over there with the kids, talking to them and getting feedback from them, you hear all of the success stories that they’ve had with those programs and how important they are to the kids. So I was able to take that information back, that firsthand knowledge, and share that with other people that are interested in the program.”
Lastly, I wanted to know how people like you and me could help out and make a difference in a person’s life that really needs it. “The thing that Right to Play wants to do is they want to get into more countries, there’s more countries and more kids that they want to work with,” Regehr said. “You can do all sorts of things, whether its raise awareness for Right to Play, you can do that by, depending on your job you can also be involved financially, and you can do different things like events that contribute to Right to Play.”
Fans that would like to learn more information about Right to Play can visit www.righttoplay.com/donateforplay.