Photos courtesy of PJ Carr
BURNABY, BC - Our latest member of the community to be recognized as a BC Rugby First XV Volunteer has spent over 12 years giving back to the sport at the club, high school, junior age grade and rep levels. Gio Lam played for just five years before being sidelined with kidney failure but has since dedicated his time off and on the pitch to Burnaby Lake Rugby Club. This past year Gio was recognized by the club with the Larry Young Award for his service and was also presented with Burnaby Lake's Rob Forsberg Award as the 'Club Person of the Year.'
"Gio is an invaluable member of the BLRC and is a huge part of the growth that we have experienced in the past three to four years," said Burnaby Lake Rugby Club President Mike Devlin.
Gio's roles at the club range from lead medical trainer for the BLRC senior men and women, head registrar, Director of Junior Rugby and coach for the U14, U15 and U17 teams.
"He transitions junior players to senior players better than anyone I know," Devlin adds. "After all day rugby on Saturdays, Gio's Sundays look like this: Help run minis at 10:00am, coach juniors game at 11:00am and then train for the Twits (Twilighters) at 1:00pm. EVERY SUNDAY."
During the summer time when the leagues shift to a 7s focus in BC, Gio is in the thick of it coaching junior club sides in weekend competitions. Outside of the club, Gio has also coached at Burnsview Secondary in Delta as well as numerous high schools in the Burnaby region. Gio's other roles include helping to cook meals for players on Thursdays after practice, occasionally lining the fields for home games and organizing all the club's social events and fundraisers.
We caught up with our latest First XV Volunteer when he had a rare break from his rugby and this is what he had to say…
BC Rugby: How long have you been involved as a volunteer with rugby? What roles do you currently have?
Gio Lam: I've coached high school rugby teams on and off since 2001 after my playing career ended due to kidney failure. At the Burnaby Lake Rugby Club, my two most time consuming roles are overseeing the growth and development of our junior program and acting as club registrar. In addition to coaching, managing, and refereeing for the junior teams, I'm also part of a team of trainers for the entire rugby club. I'll also occasionally paint the fields in preparation for home matches.
BC: Why is volunteering important to you and why have you dedicated so many hours to the Burnaby Lake, Van East and Vancouver teams?
Gio: It's such a cliche but it's about giving back and being a positive role model. Growing up in Burnaby, I had lots of opportunity and good experiences. It's rewarding for me to take my previous experiences and participation (in sport) to emulate those experiences as best I can for someone else, adults or youth. I dedicate my time to the BLRC because I learned a lot about being part of a team (club) and rugby gave me structure and something to work for. Never being able to fully compete for Burnaby at the regional or Senior level was disappointing at the time. So it's nice to still see a handful of former junior teammates and coaches at the club. Part of the responsibility that comes with being the club's Director of Youth Rugby is to help get those kids to the next level and ensure they have fun playing even if they never make it. I never made it. I had fun.
BC: What is the secret to balancing so many hours of rugby with your professional life?
Gio: While I was in university, it was a way of taking breaks from school and studying. Since 2010, never working on the weekend while games are in progress was something I negotiated into my work schedule. Now, with a full time job, I often take extended lunch breaks to complete random rugby operations. Kind of like right now!
BC: Can you tell us a bit about your playing career? How did you first get involved with Burnaby Lake?
Gio: My playing career spanned a total of five years... all through high school with three years playing age-grade before being diagnosed with renal failure and never making it into Men's rugby. I have to credit my first high school coaches, Simon Smoldon, Doug Smith, and Anton Schamberger with getting me to play rugby outside of high school. It is Andrew Vagnarelli who was my coach at Burnaby Lake who really kept me involved with the club. A lot of what I do now for youth in Burnaby, Andrew did much of the same while I was playing. I essentially learned how to do my work through him.
BC: What positions have you played and which one is your strongest?
Gio: I played on the wing for a majority of my playing career with stints at scrum half and fly-half. I enjoy bossing people around so I had the most success playing scrum-half.
BC: Have you ever played/coached/volunteered at another rugby club other than Burnaby Lake?
Gio: No. I've only ever known one club and I don't intend to leave.
BC: Who is your favourite Canadian rugby player (ever)?
Gio: Easy…Mike James. Followed his career knowing he was a local kid playing at the highest level and to see him on the sidelines nowadays embodies what being a part of Burnaby Lake really is about. You never want to leave.
BC: Who is your current favourite rugby player and why?
Gio: I can't say that I have a "current" favourite, but Jonah Lomu has been an inspiration to me all along. He was also diagnosed with kidney disease, but kept playing, got treatment, and also received a kidney transplant to make a comeback before finally leaving the game for good due to health risks.
BC: Do you see yourself leaving the game of rugby any time soon?
Gio: It's going to be quite a while. I still have to step back onto the field playing a full-sided game with Burnaby's only Over-40s club, the Twilighters.
BC: What is your greatest rugby memory either as a player or as a volunteer?
Gio: I'll never forget last year's Burnaby Lake Awards Banquet where I was awarded the club's two most prestigious awards: the Larry Young Award, for dedication to our club as voted on by the membership; and the Rob Forsberg Award, for Club Person of the Year. It was a huge honour given that I didn't have much of a playing history at Burnaby, was in and out of the club while I concentrated on school, to being relatively new to the rugby operations of a rugby club. Two very special moments shared with great people.
BC: Anything else you would like to add?
Gio: Yes. I'd like to thank each and every one of Burnaby Lake's executives, coaches, managers, players, juniors, minis, parents, alumni, supporters (and dogs), and the Twilighter Rugby Club for their efforts in creating a friendly and fun environment at the Burnaby Lake Rugby Club. Make sure you follow us on Twitter! @BurnabyLakeRFC: Many Teams, One Club.
The First XV Volunteer Appreciation program is an initiative designed to recognize the valuable pillars of our membership that help keep our sport afloat. Each recognized volunteer will be presented with a "thank you" item, a customized BC Rugby Umbrella. Each individual will then receive another 10 thank you BC Rugby travel mugs to show their appreciation to the top 10 volunteers that work alongside them in their club.