BURNABY, BC - Our latest First XV Volunteer has been involved with rugby for the last 20 years and has recently dedicated much of his time to the Burnaby Lake Rugby Club sevens and women's programs. Roko Kapaiwai currently serves as team manager of Burnaby's senior XVs program and this past summer was also the manager for British Columbia's senior and under-20 women's provincial teams.
"Roko is at the fields early on game days helping with the set up and take down. He runs the scoreboard during the men's premier games and has worked the door at every BLRC fundraiser for years - all thankless jobs that no one else wants to do," said Burnaby Lake Rugby Club president Mike Devlin who nominated Kapaiwai for the recognition. "However, his role as a coach and mentor to players are what makes Roko a great choice as BC Rugby First XV Volunteer."
Born in Fiji and a passionate rugby sevens fan, Kapaiwai has spent much of his recent summers developing sevens rugby at BLRC. Kapaiwai has managed the men's and women's sevens programs and serves as head coach of the women. Both programs have been provincial champions for four straight years in the BC Sevens Series.
Kapaiwai has also managed Burnaby's junior sevens team for three years, recruiting players from local secondary schools down to the club during the winter to teach them the skills they would need for the upcoming season.
A key mobilizer for BLRC, Kapaiwai has also been instrumental in delivering the Burnaby Lake Lighthouse Sevens each July. A lengthy invitational process, Kapaiwai begins recruiting teams nine months in advance. In recent years the Lighthouse Sevens has featured teams from south of the border including Seattle-based Old Puget Sound Beach, Emerald City Mudhens as well as the San Diego Surfers.
"Roko also helps out and passes on his knowledge and expertise to other clubs in the planning of their sevens tournaments," Devlin added. "I believe that sevens is key to the growth of rugby in North America and Roko has done more to raise the profile of rugby sevens in BC than anyone else."
"Roko is the embodiment of a 'rugby guy'," Devlin said. "He never misses a game or a training session. He'a always the first guy at the pitch and the last to leave."
We caught up with our latest First XV Volunteer and this is what he had to say…
BC RUGBY (BC): How long have you been involved as a volunteer with rugby? What roles do you currently have?
ROKO KAPAIWAI (RK): I've been involved with the sport for 20 years. Rugby is my only vice (I know, I have no life!). When I started slowing down on the field, I figured it was time to put back what those before me had been doing while I was playing, whether it's being a water boy during the game, setting up the field on game day or counting stinky jerseys after the game.
What I do now still includes counting those jerseys, but I try to slowly encourage the players to do them as well. I am currently the Director of Women's Rugby and the BLRC Lighthouse 7's program at Burnaby Lake Rugby Club, and a member of the club's executive board. I am proud to say that the programs that I am involved in have been very successful in the last five years, but I also work with some of the most dedicated volunteers any club could ask for and that is huge when one is managing or running something like this. I coach our Women's 7's team and both our Men's and Women's 7's teams have won the BC Rugby 7's Series for four years in a row now - a testament to the dedication and commitment our volunteers and players put into the program.
BC: Why is volunteering important to you and why have you dedicated so many hours to Burnaby Lake RC?
RK: When you have been involved in the game for as long as I have, you realize that the coaches, trainers, water boys and touch judges were all volunteers, doing all the hard work while you happily ran around the field smashing into opponents. Rugby was an amateur sport then, and for the most part, it still is now and a club needs a lot of volunteers to keep it running. I am still as passionate about this game now as I was when my Dad bought me my first Rugby Ball when I was 7. And even though I can't play anymore, I can still do the stuff that a player needs done at practice and on game days to help them perform better. In my mind, I am right there on the field running beside them when the game is on.
BC: What is the secret to balancing so many hours of rugby with your professional life?
RK: A very good relationship with your Boss! And a Boss who understands and values the importance of volunteer work. Being single also helps a lot!
BC: Can you tell us a bit about your playing career?
RK: I played most of my High School, Club and Provincial Rugby in Fiji, played a couple of years with the Scribes Rugby Club, then moved to the Vancouver Trojans for four years before merging with the Burnaby Lake Buffaloes in 1994. I played a few seasons with Burnaby Lake's Twilighters Team (over 40's) and three games with the Toronto Nomads. I decided to hang up the boots after the third game because I honestly could not handle the heat in Toronto.
BC: What positions have you played and which one is your strongest?
RK: I played flanker and No. 8. No.8 was my strongest because you're involved in the physical battles in the forwards but you can still quickly get out and join the backs and have some fun with them.
BC: Have you ever played/coached/volunteered at another rugby club other than BLRC?
RK: My first Clubs were in Fiji: YMCA and Valelevu. I played Provincial U23 with the Nasinu Rugby Union - the Union that Valelevu Rugby Club was a member of. I also managed the Toronto Nomads Rugby Club for a few years.
BC: Who is your favourite Canadian rugby player (ever) ?
RK: I have two. Heather Wilson who played in the late 90's and Kelly Russell, the current Canadian Women's captain. They're both flankers and I like their aggressiveness. I first met Kelly when she was 14 and knew right away she was going to go places with her game. She plays No.8 as well, which was her position at the Toronto Nomads.
BC: Who is your current favourite rugby player and why?
RK: I am biased here, but my daughter Taylor. She plays at UBC and at Burnaby Lake and I see a lot of myself in her game. She plays each game like it is her last one and sometimes you just have to close your eyes and cringe as she launches herself into the opposition.
BC: Do you see yourself leaving the game of rugby any time soon?
RK: I don't think so. There is still a lot that needs to be done at my club. I managed the BC U20's and Senior women at the NWL last year and feel that there is a lot I can contribute to that program as well. I also feel very strongly that Canadian rugby is going to turn Pro in the not too distant future and I'd like to be there for my club to help out when that happens. PLUS I have two kids that I will need to get up on Saturdays to watch their games - when I'm in my motorized wheelchair!! The youngest is just starting his Grade 8 rugby at Kelowna Secondary School. He is Canada's future No.10!
BC: What is your greatest rugby memory either as a player or as a volunteer?
RK: I would have to say that revamping the 7's program at Burnaby Lake has been quite an achievement for the club. Since joining the BC Rugby 7's series in 2010 we have won all of them both in the Elite Men and Elite Women's Divisions. Also, the last five years have been memorable for our Senior Women's program. Our Premier Women's team have made it to the BC Finals playoff from 2010 - 2013, winning it all twice - 2011 & 2013.
BC: Anything else you would like to add?
RK: Thank you so much for this honour! It is humbling to be honoured and recognized for doing something you're passionate about. I am just one of many who put in their time for something we all love. I would encourage those that cannot play anymore due to injuries or age (ye Gawds!!) to come and help the young ones. You will be pleasantly surprised at the level of enthusiasm and excitement they bring to your life. They will remind you of you when you were playing.
See you on the sidelines!
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.
First XV Volunteer Recipients:
Mark Aplas (Kats RFC)
Ian Maclean (Castaway Wanderers RFC)
Steph Murphy (United Rugby Club / Fraser Valley Rugby Union/ BC U20)
Ryan McWhinney (Abbotsford RFC / Fraser Valley Rugby Union)
Tere Blake (Vancouver-Fraser Valley Referees Society)
Brad Baker (BC High School Girls Rugby Association / BC U18 / Vancouver U16)
Andy Blackburn (Bayside AA / Fraser Valley Rugby Union / Lower Mainland U17)
John Lyall (Velox RFC / Vancouver Island Rugby Union)
Don Brown (Brit Lions RFC / Delta / BC U14)
Gio Lam (Burnaby Lake Rugby Club / Vancouver East)
Colin Chappell (Comox Kickers RFC / North Vancouver Island Rugby Union)
Jen Ross (Abbotsford RFC / Fraser Valley Rugby Union / BC U16)
Don Wright (TrueBlue BC U17 / Bayside U18)
Rob O'Brien (UBC Okanagan Heat / Kelowna Crows)
Roko Kapaiwai (Burnaby Lake Rugby Club / BC Sr Women)
Do you know someone in your community who should be recognized as a First XV Volunteer? Contact Andrew Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your nomination.