Joan Mathias leans on a picnic table, stretching her calves before taking to the soccer pitch at Maple Pool Campsite in Courtenay.
It’s a precautionary measure to prevent injury during her final practice before departing for the Homeless World Cup of Soccer in Mexico City. She ferried to Vancouver on Wednesday and flew out of the country Thursday, en route to what promises to be an adventure of a lifetime.
“I can’t believe I’m leaving tomorrow,” she said Tuesday.
Joan is a member of the Maple Pool United street soccer team, which formed this year out of the Dawn to Dawn: Action on Homelessness Society street soccer program.
Following the Western Canadian qualifying tournament in Kelowna, Street Soccer Canada selected her for the Canadian women’s team that competes Oct. 6 to 14 in Mexico. The tournament is expected to include teams from nearly 60 countries.
Joan notes the generosity of Comox Bay Care Society volunteers at the Care-A-Van, who donated several sleeveless tops for her trip.
“Clothing is an issue for me, so they donated a bunch of pretty tops, and they gave me pesos to spend in Mexico,” said Joan, who twice ventured to Victoria in a short span of time to secure a passport.
The society also gave her a new pair of cleats and soccer socks.
When she went into Extreme Runners, staff donated two pairs of used runners. Within about 20 minutes of wearing the runners, a pain in one of her knees had mostly disappeared.
“It was amazing,” Joan said. “The two ladies — I didn’t get their names — they said, ‘You’re the girl that’s going to Mexico.’ We ended up crying and hugging each other when I left. It was just so emotional.”
Joan grew up in Alberta but has lived on Vancouver Island more than 30 years, the past eight in Courtenay. The Dawn to Dawn client is a self-professed ‘sport nut’ who used to live for baseball. The soccer program has inspired her to quit smoking.
Joan’s adventure has inspired various random acts of kindness. One anonymous individual donated $200 in Mexican pesos to help fund her trip.
“People just come up to me and hand me $20. ‘You’re the soccer star,’ and they say ‘Here, this is for your trip.’ I got $10 bills and $20 bills. It’s like, Oh my goodness,” she says with an infectious laugh.
“I’m floored, really. It’s amazing how quickly the community just gets together and helps everyone out.”
Tim Krutzmann’s Grade 9/10 leadership class at Vanier Secondary has also contributed to the soccer program. Students organized a bake sale that raised $230, with another $50 from Top Notch Soccer. The $280 contribution is in the form of gift certificates to the Courtenay store.
Krutzmann had asked the class for ideas for a spirit event.
“I came up with the idea and we went with it,” said Grade 10 student Simone Bardonner, who has been keeping in contact with Joan. “I thought we could probably do something to support her.”
Simone presented Joan with the money Tuesday at Maple Pool.
“The community has really gotten behind her (Joan) and the idea,” said Grant Shilling, who co-ordinates the local street soccer program. “We’re most appreciative.”