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Tamara Simmons brings Canadian content to Falkland Islands (Part Two)

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Bringing her love of sport across the world, Tamara Simmons is more than a coach and administrator. A valuable mentor and friend, she has grown into a role model, helping to empower a new generation find a blend of fun and achievement in hockey. The pride of Tiverton, Ontario, enjoying a background in both rugby and ice hockey officiating, she brings another element of strong leadership as hockey continues to expand in Falkland Islands.

In addition to a place on the Board of Directors for the Falkland Islands Hockey Association, also holding the office of Referee Rep, Simmons enjoys a place as team manager for the Knights of the Super Elite division. Worth noting, the archrival Bombers are managed by the revered Grant Budd. Reflecting on the experience of being recruited, a rapid journey unfolded for Simmons. Believing that her Canadian background likely played a factor, her strong leadership rose to the surface, emerging as an ideal fit. 

“There was a short ball hockey season that had just started when I arrived in the Southern Hemisphere’s spring. Hearing that I was Canadian and therefore must know hockey, I was quickly drafted on to a team. As there is a short break for summer, the inline season starts just at the tail end of summer. I was, perhaps unsurprisingly, invited along to the AGM for the Hockey Association prior to the start of season. From there, I found myself drafted into coaching my first team – the Dragons.”

Juggling various coaching and administrative duties in ball hockey, Simmons admirably serves in the capacity of deputy coach for the women’s ice hockey team. Having found tremendous motivation in the enthusiasm of the players, it represents a source of inspiration. 

Despite the absence of an ice rink in Falkland Islands, Simmons has successfully managed to adapt. Sharing her insights with a group keen to enhance their skill set, any limitations posed by the lack of an ice surface have come to exemplify an incredible devotion. Successfully refining her approach, utilizing a 3-on-3 format has proven to be the most effective.

“I had never really coached before, aside from one season of tyke hockey back when I was in high school. On top of that, I had never met a group of teenagers so hungry to be coached.

We play in a sports hall. In Canadian terms, this is a small school gym with square corners and built out of the most unforgiving cinderblock walls. The benches are store cupboards and they are right in the corners of the hall. 

The mechanics of changing on the fly are a little more cumbersome. Because of the size of the hall, we play 3-on-3. Therefore, coaching for me, became about mechanics and strategy. 

It is a completely different way of thinking about hockey. Spacing and set plays and utilizing each player, they understood almost immediately that it had to be a whole team effort. I fed off their energy and they off mine. It was the most exciting season I had ever been a part of.”

Overseas trips fuelled the drive for the women’s team, igniting a greater passion for the game. While the ice represented a novel experience for the players, their tutelage under Simmons yielded strong benefits. Events such as the Winter Cup Classic in Chile, and the LATAM Amerigol Cup in Miami saw the players rise to the occasion. Employing an even greater work ethic with regards to preparation, the display of dedication provided Simmons with one of her proudest moments in sport. 

“When the prospect of going away was announced, first Punta Arenas and then on to Miami, the excitement grew but so did their hunger. They (the players, both kids and adults) knew that it was going to be a big change – not just in the size of the playing surface but the actual surface itself … ice. 

They wanted to be at their absolute best before getting on that plane. They turned up; they skated; they drilled skills and play; they skated some more. I was humbled by their fire and inspired by their dedication to the game but also to each other.”

Enjoying the jubilation of a golden finish at the 2023 Winter Cup Classic, Punta Arenas remaining a place of success for all teams representing the Falklands, the taste of victory is one the players hope to savor several more times. With a desire to maintain their on-ice success, such feelings are not lost on Simmons, the sense of motivation certainly reciprocal.

“The team had a strong showing in Punta Arenas in August. It is green lights all the way for our teams. They came back hungrier than they were before – although, I would not have thought that possible. There is no sense of sitting on their laurels; they know they will need to continue to work.

Definitely, they have been bitten by the ice bug. They want to go. They want to do better; get better and continue to make a good showing for the association but also for their country. Falkland Islanders are a very proud people who do not shy away from hard work. The desire is there. Their work ethic is there. You can expect great things in the future, that’s for sure.” 

With school obligations, travelling with the team is not always an option for Simmons. Considering that the 2022 edition of the Amerigol LATAM Cup occurred in mid-September, the school year just underway, Simmons quickly transitioned from coach into the role of supporter. 

Of note, the D2 bracket of the LATAM Cup saw Falklands players on the Rest of the World (ROTW) roster while the local Stanley Penguins iced an Under-20 team. A national team participated among the Under-16s and a group of Falklands players held a place on the Caribbean Under-12 squad. 

As the Narrows Bar and Grill in Stanley served as the site of many viewing parties, it also provided the backdrop for an admirable initiative. In discussion with Sam Cockwell, another notable figure in Falklands hockey, the collaboration resulted in the launch of a fundraiser. Dubbed “The Big Skate”, a 50 km journey, the show of teamwork set a highly positive example throughout the Falklands sporting community, simultaneously demonstrating a combination of belief and encouragement in the players abilities.

“The Big Skate was born while the hockey teams were away in Miami in 2022. Not all of us were able to travel with the team. Because I am a teacher at the high school, I am very much tied to the school term dates. 

A few other members of the committee along with myself found ourselves watching the games from the Narrows Bar and Grill, right here in Stanley. We went down and watched as many games as we could and I would be surprised if they could not hear us cheering all the way up in Miami.

However, Sam Cockwell and myself got to talking about how we could keep the momentum going. Find a way to support the teams for the next season, should the opportunity to go away come again. That is when, over a few beverages, we decided that a big skate would not only raise the profile of the Association but also a few funds, which would be a good launch to the next season.”

The initiative made headline news, capturing the hearts and minds of people throughout Falklands. Having trained throughout autumn, the effort proved highly ambitious. Pushing physical limits, the challenge of skating the road which leads to the Mount Pleasant Complex (MPC) is a demanding one. Considered the world’s largest corridor, the complex is 800 meters long while the road from capital city Stanley to the MPC is 53 km southwest. Additionally, the MPC also saw two Royal Air Force Logistics Drivers walk the complex non-stop for 15 hours in August 2020 to raise money for Crohn’s Disease UK and the Darby Rimmer MND Foundation, in support of Motor Neurone Disease research.

Although the complexities of The Big Skate were found in the road’s tarmacked sections, usually occupied by 4X4 vehicles, the support of another member from the Falkand Islands hockey community proved essential. Having recently served as goaltender for the Reapers club, which also featured Grant Budd, Gabi Hartley and Claire Young as players, Paul Ellis provided an invaluable assist in determining how to navigate the cattle grids on such a grueling path. As other members of the community were on-hand to provide food and beverage, the display of support is one that demonstrates the positive impact of paying it forward, one destined to leave a lasting impression on the youth of Falkland Islands hockey.

“Once the weather came good, we started to train. We trained for the better part of four and a half months. The goal was to skate the tarmacked sections of the MPC road (this is the road that leads from the Military base into the city of Stanley). We had to train for hill climbs and descents. Also, we needed to devise a means of traversing over cattle grids – for this, we enlisted the help of Paul Ellis (another longstanding member of the hockey family).

At last, the day had arrived and the weather smiled favourably upon us – just enough sun and not too much wind (an absolute miracle down here). We had a support team to help lay the bridge over the cattle grates, carry our extra gear (as we fully kitted up prior to our descent down Fitzroy ridge), hydration and snacks. 

In total, we completed 54 km in approximately 4 ½ hours. The best bit of the entire skate was on our final approach to town, as we were joined by more and more members of the hockey club to skate with us to the end. We raised over £1,500. That was put towards sponsoring the kids this past August as they travelled, for the second time since my arrival, to compete in Punta Arenas.

A Bigger Skate is planned for 2024, if the weather will cooperate.”  

All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated

Acknowledgements: Jo Turner

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