2022 ESSO CUP: DAY 3 (MAY 18)

Acts of kindness allowed Aynsley D’Ottavio to return to her Chilliwack home after British Columbia was devastated by a historic storm

When Aynsley D’Ottavio left Chilliwack, British Columbia, last November to attend Quinnipiac University, she had no idea that her return would be so difficult.

The Fraser Valley Rush defender had traveled with her mother to Connecticut for a one-day visit.

“We arrived in the evening and my father texted us that a storm was raging in our house, she recalls. We didn’t make much of it. In British Columbia, we know the rain.”

Mother and daughter went to bed after a long day of travel to be ready for the next morning’s visit. When they awoke, they continued to receive news of unprecedented rains falling on British Columbia.

“During the visit, I heard snippets of what was going on,” Aynsley says. But on the return flight, we realized that the situation had become catastrophic. †

A downpour had brought the equivalent of a month’s rainfall in 48 hours in some towns in the province. Dozens of rain records were shattered and devastating landslides forced the closure of virtually every major highway in southern British Columbia.

Because the Fraser Valley had already seen heavy rain in September and October, the latest showers caused streams and rivers that normally don’t flood to burst their banks. Whole parts of the valley were flooded. About 20,000 people had to evacuate their homes.

Originally, Aynsley’s father would pick her and her mother up from the airport and then drive the player to Langley, where she would join her Rush teammates and meet the Northern Capitals there. But during the layover in Toronto, she found that the storm had thwarted that plan.

“My father couldn’t come because of the flooding,” the 16-year-old explains. We didn’t quite know what to do. When we arrived in Vancouver, my mother’s boss was generous enough to buy us a hotel room there. We stayed there for one night, time to assess the situation. †

Aynsley wasn’t the only Rush member affected by the floods. Striker Hannah Dods was at home in Chilliwack when the storm erupted. The 15-year-old didn’t pay much attention to it at first, but that changed when she heard about the flooding and rising water.

“The day before, a friend and I were talking about the deluge that fell and we wondered if the school was going to close,” she says. We highly doubted it, but in fact that is what happened. †

Fortunately, Hahhah and Aynsley’s family homes were spared the flooding. Hannah’s school was closed for a week and served as a shelter for flood victims. Although her home was not affected, her city was cut off from the rest of the world, and she has seen the consequences.

“We literally ran out of raw materials: we weren’t allowed to waste petrol, because there was no refueling. We also didn’t have to empty our pantry, because the supermarkets were no longer stocked. †

With the highways blocked by water and debris, Hannah was no longer able to go to workouts or Rush games. But there was a silver lining to everything: she could spend more time with her basketball team.

“It was good to have time to relax, but what disappointed me the most was that I couldn’t play hockey. After missing a game and a few practices and not seeing my teammates for a week, I was really looking forward to getting back on the ice. †

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, Aynsley D’Ottavio called her teammates to see what she could do before a game against the Capitals.

“We had a game the next morning and I wanted to know if we could go there together, if only to watch the game,” she explains.

While trying to find a way to get to Langley, an idea occurred to her. Many of her teammates had old equipment at home. Since she couldn’t bring hers because of the flooding, maybe we could patch one up for her?

“I presented the idea and all the girls got in, because they really wanted me to be on the ice with them. That was a good thing, because so am I! It was really great.”

Jumping onto the ice, decked out in patched gear, the idea no longer seemed so practical.

“It was very strange. I didn’t even know if I could skate. It’s hard enough getting used to new skates, so imagine when they’re used and molded to different feet…”

Despite the inconvenience, Aynsley got an assist in a 3-2 Rush win in extra time. After the match, another challenge awaited him: returning home. She, her mother, her blueline partner Jade Lore and her mother tried to find a way to get to Chilliwack without having to go through the closed roads.

The group then flew to Pitt Meadows Airport, 20 miles from Vancouver International Airport, hoping to catch a flight in a small plane, but no plane was available.

“Then we saw a helicopter service across the street. We asked if they still had room, says Aynsley. Not sure if anyone canceled their flight or if they had just enough free seats, but they were generous enough to drive us home. †

It was Aynsley’s first helicopter ride and she saw the devastation first hand.

“It was absolutely crazy. I couldn’t recognize the roads and I couldn’t see the highway that runs through the city. It was even worse than I imagined. †

But despite the difficult circumstances, we could count on the generosity of the members of the community. Several local hockey clubs have lent a hand to the victims of the disaster. Hannah Dods’ family has also piled sandbags in a park.

“It was great to see everyone helping each other,” says Hannah.

Aynsley D’Ottavio, for her part, is very grateful for the generosity with which she and her mother were able to return home. She recalls the community’s kindness to those most affected as the city repaired the damage.

“Everyone has worked to help the farmers and the people who live in the floodplains and had to leave their homes. The pilot told us that several airlines offered free flights to people who couldn’t go home after work to see their families. It was really beautiful to see. †

Six months later, infrastructure repairs are well underway, but scars from the flood are still visible. Now that the roads are open again, Aynsley D’Ottavio and Hannah Dods are delighted to be back with the Rush and continue their journey to the Esso Cup.

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