Athletes On A Mission

Sydnee Nolan - Dog River Howlers

Chatham’s Sydnee Nolan in Columbia with the humanitarian Dog River Howlers rugby team – Photo by Rene Tobon

Athletics teach a number of values. Fair play and sportsmanship; determination through adversity. Playing sports at a high level also gives young athletes an opportunity to travel.

When these instilled values and the opportunity to travel collide, we find athletes taking the opportunity to go abroad and give back through mission trips and humanitarian efforts.

Chatham’s Sydnee Nolan, an OUA rugby champion with the Queens University Gaels last season, recently returned from such a trip to Columbia with the Dog River Howlers rugby team.

“I wanted to travel with the Dog River Howlers to Colombia because I wanted to travel the world and experience the rugby culture internationally as well as influence the poorer areas of Medellin (Columbia) by coaching rugby and sharing my love of the game,” says Nolan, who ran rugby workshops for roughly 200 kids, and donated equipment to the youth of the community she visited.

For Nolan, the experience of reaching an impoverished community, and seeing the positive impact sport, and the efforts of volunteers can have, is one she’ll never forget.

“My trip was one that I will never forget,” says Nolan. “The people that I had met were living in a poor area and did not have much, but their passionate love for the game and for their community inspired me.”

In particular, Nolan feels the tools she gained through athletics assisted her on the trip, and opened the door for her to give back to others.

“Athletes are viewed as leaders within a community, and they have the opportunity to extend that leadership internationally. Sport connects everyone regardless of language, race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. Nothing is greater than seeing how your small action of reaching out to someone can influence their life give them something to aspire to be.”

Another local rugby star, Tegan Williams of Blenheim, who played for the Western University Mustangs last year, also recently returned from a trip to Uganda, where she taught rugby as a healthy outlet for youth.

Nolan and Williams aren’t the only local athletes heading abroad this year either, as Wallaceburg’s Deanna Kerkhof, a former star for the NCAA’s Northeastern University Huskies, and Chatham Eagles soccer player Christina Zruna, will be travelling to Lima, Peru in September on a mission trip.

Deanna Kerkhof (left) and Christina Zruna (left) with their campers at the fundraising Makes For A Mission basketball camp in Chatham - Contributed Photo

Deanna Kerkhof (left) and Christina Zruna (left) with their campers at the fundraising Makes For A Mission basketball camp in Chatham – Contributed Photo

The duo, who recently held a basketball camp, called Makes for a Mission, in Chatham to raise funds for their trip, hope they can have a lasting impact in Peru, in particular at the orphanage where they’ll be working

“I hope to have a lasting impact on the orphanage in Lima,” says Kerkhof. “I want to raise enough money to purchase equipment and supplies for the children to learn and play, and to make necessary structural improvements around orphanage.”

“I wanted to make a difference and create a change elsewhere in the world,” says Zruna of her reason for taking the trip with Kerkhof, who are both UCC graduates.

Athletics has played a large role in the development of each of these women, and they’re hoping they can use the sports they love in Peru to bring joy to the children they meet.

“Athletics has always been a big part of my life and has shaped who I am as a person,” says Zruna.

“In Lima I hope to be able to share my passion for athletics and demonstrate how much just picking up a ball can change your day. Providing that positive environment for these children gives them the opportunity to express themselves and build confidence. These children need to be given a chance to experience what it feels like to know they are in a safe place and to belong to something as great as a team.”

Kerkhof, who has volunteered at a pair of homeless shelters in Boston over the past two years, says her time as a student-athletes exposed her to community service.

Despite the efforts these local athletes have made, they understand there is more to be done, not only in Chatham-Kent, but globally.

Although the Makes for a Mission basketball camp was a success, Kerkhof says Zruna and herself are still looking for donations, which will go directly to the youth in Lima.

“We were able to raise a good amount of money from the camp and will be using all of that money to purchase supplies for the orphanage in Lima,” says Kerkhof. “and we are still looking to raise more money for the Mission.”

Donations for their upcoming Mission can be made at

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