Duncan Ryan was one of the original Rainmakers on the Charles Hays rugby team. Now, he is making sure the wheels keep turning on the program – literally and figuratively.
Ryan’s experience with the team as a player was born out of his desire for an after-school activity. The rugby team had just formed at Charles Hays, and Ryan figured it would be a good opportunity to get out and do some exercise. He quickly realized though that he would be developing many more skills while playing the sport.
“It taught me good team skills. It was a stepping stone for me to work with others and work in a team,” Ryan said. “It helped me build more friendships, and we got to meet people out of town.”
“We learned about each other, we learned on a personal level who we are,” Ryan remembered. “Even though we were kids back then, it was great to know who you’re going to be playing with and who you’re going to be playing against.”
Ryan remembers the team getting off to a bit of a shaky start, most notably in their first ever home game against Houston. “It was our first legitimate game, and we definitely didn’t have our ends together,” Ryan said. “But the main thing was that we had fun, and we had a team going. Practices were great, we had great coaches that stepped in without any hesitation. Seeing that they wanted to get going to help with travelling and expanding the program was special.”
“We just had the bare minimum of guys to play,” Ryan says of the early years. The program gained support as Ryan progressed through high school, but by the time he reached his senior year interest and participation in the sport had faltered.
Ryan graduated and went on to start his own trucking company, Ryan Brothers Trucking. He likes to haul lumber on his 18-gear flat-deck trailer, but with the downturn in the forestry industry is often forced to tackle other loads. Ryan has adapted well though, making deliveries all the way to Prince George and beyond.
|Duncan Ryan (hat) was presented with a jersey signed by members of Team Canada for his support of the Rainmakers rugby program. (Alex Kurial / The Northern View)|
More recently, there has been an upswing in rugby participation and interest in Prince Rupert. The Rainmakers team has come alive with new, eager players, many of whom have already made waves on an international level. Ryan decided this was his opportunity to foster this local talent, and help continue the commitment to the team that he had made back in high school. He became a benefactor to the Rainmakers rugby team earlier this year, easing a big chunk of the financial burden of being a sports team in a remote area.
“I wanted kids to get more practice time and game time, and eliminate the fundraising time,” Ryan explained. “I want to get the financial stress off the club’s shoulders, so they know they can afford to go to tournaments and that they can participate in these events, whether it be a local skirmish or going to tournaments and getting spotted by professionals.”
|Duncan Ryan with the Charles Hays rugby team in Kamloops. The trip was made possible by Ryan stepping up to drive the team bus to the tournament. (Submitted photo)|
As of last month, Ryan’s support went beyond the financial to the quite literal responsibility of ensuring the team was able to attend a tournament in Kamloops. “I got a call on a Wednesday night at 6 p.m. from Andy [Enns, Rainmakers rugby coach] asking if I could drive the bus. After about two hours talking to the bus company they said okay, come in with your papers and we’ll give you the keys.”
The following evening Ryan was behind the wheel, and the team was off on the long trip down to Kamloops. A skilled driver, even Ryan noted the many differences between driving a truck and a bus. The latter is top heavy, wheels underneath the driver instead of in-front, automatic transmission, and unlike Ryan’s truck has no pinpoints for turns or his usual 18-gear shifter. Still, Ryan says it was a “very smooth ride for everybody.”
|Duncan Ryan drives the team bus on the long drive from Prince Rupert to Kamloops, and back. (Submitted photo)|
It turns out, Ryan likely enjoyed the trip as much as the student athletes. “I’m trying to help these kids as much as I can and sponsor them as much as I can, so to see where that support is going and seeing the kids taken care of, going down on the road for the weekend there, that was a joy filler for me.”
Ryan continues to be amazed at how far the sport and the team has come at Charles Hays and in Prince Rupert since he started out. He hopes to continue playing a role in fostering the town’s talent, and help give kids life opportunities through the sport.
“It feels good to know that where we started from, dropping the ball every 30 seconds, getting all those calls on us, to see how far the program has advanced and see how much these kids are interested in the sport, and that they’re driving to their best ability is unreal,” Ryan said.
“To see kids go from just starting to travelling across the world is incredible. I want to make sure that that club is getting pushed ahead and Rupert is getting landmarked, not just for our port or other major services, but also our sports. Rupert could be labelled one day as one of the top notch places for rugby players.”
“That’s what drives me, to make sure kids get attention, and maybe score a scholarship with their playing time. I want to make sure the future stars come up.”
|Ryan received the Team Canada jersey at a Rainmakers rugby awards night in June. (Submitted photo)|
Ryan recalls how even during his early playing days, he and the other pioneers of the sport in Prince Rupert dreamed rugby could one day exist here in its current state.
“You know, if we don’t get it someone else will, as long as the program keeps going,” Ryan said of the building blocks they tried to lay down for future players. “To go from guys that hadn’t gone past Smithers, to people going international now, is just outstanding.”
“It makes me feel great to say that this is a program that is going to be around awhile and is grabbing more international attention, even the sport itself has grabbed more attention. The passion and drive from all the kids involved has been great.”
Ryan was honoured by the Rainmakers at their awards ceremony in June with his own personal jersey signed by members of Team Canada during their international play, many of whom featured at the recent Rugby World Cup. Robin MacDowell, who runs an academy on Vancouver Island and has coached many Rupert rugby athletes, worked to obtain the signatures. Ryan now has it framed in a case, and it hangs proudly at his work.
“They took care of me and now I want to take care of them to the best of my ability. And that’s why I’m paying it forward,” Ryan said.
Alex Kurial | Sports Reporter
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