Breaking a sweat (and lovin' it) at RedBlacks Women's Training Camp

Unique fundraiser helps OSEG Foundation with goal of exposing more young girls to the benefits of sport
Myers Riders Football Club volunteer Claudia Jones (right) blocks school teacher Lisa Colasante as they participate in a drill at the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp, presented by Palladium Insurance in support of the OSEG Foundation and its goal of helping young girls build life skills through sport. Photo by Caroline Phillips
Editor's Note

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One had the feeling there was nothing the women at Friday night’s RedBlacks Women’s Training Camp couldn't tackle — including, if necessary, 300-pound men in tight pants running straight toward them.

The popular fundraiser for the OSEG (Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group) Foundation was back at TD Place stadium after getting benched by the pandemic over the last two years.

The event saw 250 women buy tickets, helping to raise $100,000 for the Foundation and its goal of keeping young girls physically active. Teenage girls drop out of sports at dramatically higher rates than their male peers, according to Canadian Women & Sport. Among girls who participated in sport, one in three left by their late teens, it found. By comparison, the drop-out rate for boys is only one in 10.

The pandemic has made matters even worse.

The women were having the time of their lives while learning the basics of football through a series of drills and exercises led by Ottawa RedBlacks players who ticked all the boxes as far as being funny, charming, helpful (and handsome!) are concerned.

“They’ve been fantastic, and ready to put all their efforts into making this the best night ever, ” Meghan Connolly, a project manager at Intega IT, told OBJ.social. 

Another first-time participant, Joanne Kudakiewicz, a wealth advisor at OneLife Wealth Management, revealed that she didn’t know what to expect coming to the stadium that day. 

“This is really one of the best events that I’ve been to in a really long time,” said Kudakiewicz, who's a big believer in trying new things. “We always tell people, 'be comfortable with the uncomfortable.'”

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Meghan Connolly demonstrated her ability to catch a football, no problem, at the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp held Friday, July 22, 2022, in support of the OSEG Foundation and its goal of getting more young girls involved in sport and physical activity. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ottawa RedBlacks fans Shane Scatliffe, left, and Carr Evans, both of whom are Zumba instructors, are regular participants of the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp held in support of the OSEG Foundation and its goal of enhancing girls' participation in sport and physical activity. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Tammy Laverty Hall showed the tackle bags who's boss during the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp held at TD Place stadium on Friday, July 22, 2022, in support of the OSEG Foundation and its goal of enhancing girls' participation in sport and physical activity. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From Ottawa law firm Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall, Selena Saikaley, bottom left, gives Désirée Estephan-Saliba a piggyback while Veronica Blanco Sanchez does the same for Danyka Simard during the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp held at TD Place Stadium for the OSEG Foundation. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Participants got a warm welcome on the gridiron by RedBlacks head coach Paul LaPolice, who also introduced the players as they individually jogged out onto the field to enthusiastic cheers and applause.

LaPolice said he likes the training night because it helps to educate women about the sport of football. “I think the cool thing is being able to tell the ladies something about the game and then having them go home and tell their husbands, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’” he told OBJ.social good-humouredly.

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Ottawa RedBlacks head coach Paul LaPolice with devoted football mom Lena Gervais, who participated in the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp in support of the OSEG Foundation and its goal of getting more girls interested in sports and physical activity. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Defensive lineman Nigel Romick is greeted by his teammates as he makes his way onto the field for the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp that the players hosted at TD Place stadium on Friday, July 22, 2022 in support of the OSEG Foundation and its initiatives to keep young girls  physical activity. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Among the initiatives that the OSEG Foundation supports are Sports Day the Girls’ Way and Girls on the Run Ottawa, the latter of which is a new after-school community program that helps girls in lower-income neighbourhoods develop social, emotional and physical life skills through sport. It culminates with their participation in a 5K run. 

The OSEG Foundation, led by executive director Janice Barresi, has so far collaborated with Blossom Park, Charles H. Hulse, Hawthorne and Bayshore public schools, as well as Confederation Court and Russell Heights community houses.

The presenting sponsor of RedBlacks Women’s Training Night was Palladium Insurance. It was represented by Sylvie Forget Swim, who’s the CEO of the insurance brokerage firm, as well as a partner. She’s also a member of OSEG Foundation’s community cabinet and is involved with Girls on the Run.

“I just want kids to learn that an active lifestyle is totally accessible,” she told OBJ.social.

Forget Swim grew up playing competitive sports and has completed 27 marathons. She took up running 17 years ago through the free strollercize classes offered to new moms at the Boomerang Kids store in Old Ottawa South. 

She's also seen the benefits of physical activity through her own daughter, a former competitive gymnast who, she said, continues to recognize the value of staying active for her mental health, self-worth and well-being. “Now, as an adult, she’s totally found her groove.”

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Sylvie Forget Swim, CEO and a partner at presenting sponsor Palladium Insurance, with her sister, Nicole Forget, at the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp held Friday, July 22, 2022, at TD Place stadium in support of the OSEG Foundation and its goal of enhancing girls' participation in sport and physical activity. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Valérie Brière from sponsor Casino du Lac-Leamy with Janice Barresi, executive director of the OSEG Foundation, at the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp held Friday, July 22, 2022, at TD Place stadium in support of the OSEG Foundation and its goal of enhancing girls' participation in sport and physical activity. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Rachel King, a marketing manager with sponsor CAA North & East Ontario, took a break at the hydration station during the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp with Ottawa RedBlacks wide receiver Nate Behar, left, and defensive back Justin Howell — both of whom are Carleton University Ravens alumni. Photo by Caroline Phillips

RedBlack defensive back Antoine Pruneau and his teammates led the women through warm-up exercises. “We’re going to start with 100 push-ups,” he said in what was the first of many jokes to come that night. Afterward, participants rotated with their respective groups through the eight stations. The women gave it their all, whether they were learning to kick a field goal, block an opponent or avoid a tackle. 

During the drills, there were high fives, group cheers, and the sounds of good times and laughter. The fundraiser wrapped up with everyone coming together for a dinner reception.

“It’s amazing, it’s amazing,” said another first-time participant, Jennifer Van Noort, vice president of philanthropy and leadership giving at The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, of the experience of meeting new people and pushing herself, physically. “I’m going to do it again. It’s exhilarating, it’s fun.”

There were many returning participants, as well as those with a love of football. Lena Gervais is a long-time season ticket holder and the mom of a talented football player. Her son, Xavier Gervais, is the team quarterback at Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Que.  “I’ve been watching my son play since he was nine,” she told OBJ.social. 

A future RedBlacks player, perhaps? “That’s his goal,” she responded with a hopeful smile.

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RedBlacks defensive back Antoine Pruneau and his teammates led the warm-up exercises for the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp held at TD Place stadium in support of the OSEG Foundation and its goal of getting more young girls to stay physically active and to stick with sports. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Representing the Ottawa Dental Society was its president, Dr. Tanya Bracanovich (front), founder and owner of Sparks Dental Clinic, with Carleigh Vucetic, Mia Bracanovich, periodonist Dr. Eugenie MacKay, Dr. Carol Janik (chief of dentistry at CHEO), and Dr. Neera Singal from Fallingbrook Dental Centre, at the REDBLACKS Women’s Training Camp. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Women got together at TD Place stadium on Friday, July 22, 2022 to participate in the popular RedBlacks Women's Training Camp in support of the OSEG Foundation and its goal of getting more young girls involved in sport and physical activity. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Sharilyn Cyr, Ottawa RedBlacks defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin IV, Karen Barnes, Waste Management manager Sherry Stevenson, Robyn Graham and Ottawa RedBlacks linebacker Patrick Nelson at the REDBLACKS Women’s Training Camp held at TD Place stadium on Friday, July 22, 2022, in support of the OSEG Foundation.
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Organizers brought out the football tackle bags to teach participants of the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp how to take down their opponents (with a smile, apparently). Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Participants of the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp fundraiser for the OSEG Foundation took part in a series of drills and exercises to teach them more about the game of football. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Jodi Parker, Sarah Langham, Jennifer Van Noort and Ingrid Gingras, all with The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, had a blast participating in the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp held at TD Place Stadium in support of the OSEG Foundation and its goal of getting more young girls involved in sport and physical activity. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Participants of the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp fundraiser, including Sylvie Forget Swim and her sister, Nicole Forget, took part in a series of drills and exercises to teach them more about the game of football. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From back left, Bobbie Jo Walsh (Haworth), Erin Binks (Caber Group), Delia Leogreen (Equitable Life of Canada), and Joanne Kudakiewicz (OneLife Wealth Management), ​​​with, from front left, ​​​​Meghan Connolly (Intega IT), and Jodi Keefe (Desjardins Financial Security Independent Network), at the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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The RedBlacks Women's Training Camp fundraiser for the OSEG Foundation featured a series of drills and exercises to teach participants about the game of football. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Participants of the RedBlacks Women's Training Camp fundraiser for the OSEG Foundation learned how to kick a field goal. Photo by Caroline Phillips

caroline@obj.ca

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