Caroline Crossley is on the phone, calling from her home in Victoria.
Amidst self-isolation, this is the best we can do for an interview.
She’s stolen a few moments away from her training, the work doesn’t stop for aspiring Olympians. Her cooking falafels (with homemade dips) and cabbage rolls were her latest venture in the kitchen. And now she’s involved in her recently-launched philanthropic fundraising initiative.
We start with the fundraising initiative. The cheesecake discussion can wait.
So… Crossley, 22, wanted to help.
Canadian Rugby Sevens teammate Pam Buisa asked if she would like to be part of the ‘Vancouver Island Steps Up’ Community Relief Fund. The initial goal was to raise $15,000 to “bridge the (financial) gap for members of (the) community that are currently being left behind in the rapidly-changing situation we all find ourselves in.”
The goal of the initiative is to “meet the needs of (the) diverse (Vancouver Island) community which can’t be adequately characterized by standardized aid programs.”
The opportunity was a chance for Crossley to give back to her community and utilize her platform.
“No matter how hard it is for us, it has to be so much harder for people who are supporting families, and we’re definitely targeting those kinds of populations,” says Crossley, who joined a five-person group that includes community members with experience delivering on similar projects.
“It’s really a grassroots initiative, launched to help our local community on Vancouver Island. It’s aimed at low-income individuals and families, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. We’re lifting our community up and trying to help fill in the gaps for those who may have fallen through the cracks.”
At the time of this writing, the fundraiser had raised $9,200.
Don’t worry, the rest of the story can wait for a few minutes….
It makes sense that Crossley wanted to join something like the ‘Vancouver Island Steps Up’ Community Relief Fund. She grew up in Victoria, which is about a 20-minute drive from where she has trained with the National Sevens side since joining the program in 2015. Vancouver Island is home. And, as you’ll learn, she knows firsthand exactly what can happen when dedication fuels change.
Caroline’s dad is David Crossley. In short, he initiated and drove the bus in launching the girls and women’s programs at Castaway Wanderers Rugby Club in Victoria. Before David initiated the movement at CW, a girls program did not exist.
“He trailblazed that whole program,” says Caroline, who played with the boys for the first few years of her rugby career, until David built a U15 girls team at CW.
“I have never met anyone who is more passionate about the development of girls’ rugby as him. I think he loves rugby more than I do at times. Without him, I don’t know where I would have played or if I would have kept playing at all.”
David built the pathway and Caroline took the fast lane to the pinnacle of Canadian rugby.
In 2015, Crossley was just 17 years old when she debuted for Canada on the World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai.
“It was definitely surreal. And exciting. And scary.
“I remember playing against the USA and playing against Alev Kelter and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this girl is going to kill me.’”
It’s a fair fear (Kelter is a rugby-playing machine), but Crossley survived.
Despite her success early on – and Crossley being named Rugby Canada’s Female Young Player of the Year for 2015 – her second tournament on the Sevens Series didn’t come until March 2017, when she was named to Canada’s roster for the tournament in Las Vegas. For Crossley, who was so good at such a young age, the wait felt like an eternity.
“I was thinking this is my final shot to prove that I can make a difference on this team,” says Crossley, who, that weekend, scored her first-ever try on the Series in a quarter-final victory over France. “I feel that I performed well in that tournament and progressed from there.”
Three years later, Crossley lines up for a late-game kickoff in a semifinal contest against Australia in Hamilton, New Zealand. With Canada having just scored to take a 21-19 lead, Crossley had one job. Win the kickoff.
The result became an “Impact Moment” recognized by World Rugby. Outjumping her Australian counterpart, Crossley flicked the ball back to her teammates and Australia never touched the ball again. A few passes later, followed by a dazzling try from Ghislaine Landry, sealed the win and a spot in the final.
“It was great to be able to contribute my strengths to the team to give us that performance,” says Crossley, whose aerial game is justifiably a point of pride. “I like that I can do that for the team, but I’m also trying to be the best player I can be in every aspect.”
Canada took silver in that tournament, losing to New Zealand in the final. The following week in Sydney produced the exact same result.
Crossley sits in her Victoria home. One of her two roommates is teammate Olivia Apps. She’s a fellow foodie and chef.
These are weird times. This weekend (May 2-3), Canada was supposed to welcome the Sevens Series to Langford, B.C. Due to COVID-19, this weekend’s event was postponed some time ago. Then, shortly thereafter, the Olympics were postponed. Considering the circumstances, it was inevitable. But the reality was still a shock.
“Everything has been geared for the Olympics and our team was on a really good trajectory,” Crossley says. “I felt like our team was on a really good path toward our goal, which is obviously a gold medal at the Olympics.
“We’ve just had to shift our mindset. This is a curveball, but we need to think about what we need to do now to still achieve our goal.”
In the meantime – somewhere between the Middle Eastern cuisine, the intimate workouts, and figuring out how to beat the Black Ferns – Crossley has focused her attention on those in need during this unprecedented pandemic.
“The good thing that has come out of all this is that there is time and space to pursue other things in this sort of way. As rugby players, we have a platform that can do so much to help and I’m just trying to do my part and help where I can.”