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Growing for gold: Parents of Pam Buisa reflect on what it takes to raise an Olympian

As we prepare for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the focus, as it should be, is on our Canadian athletes. Who they are. What they will do, and the small towns, cities, and provinces they will be representing as members of Team Canada.

I love these stories. I love to hear how every athlete made it to the top stage in their sport.

And yet, another side of the story are those who are cheering for them. This year, as we know, will be quite different. The stands will be empty. But the cheering, again, as we all know, will goes on.

Only I imagine it will be from those athletes’ childhood homes, patios or other small gatherings. Whether it will stream on tablets, computers or televisions –  proud parents will still be cheering on the outstanding accomplishments of their sons and daughters.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to hear just how proud one set Pamphile Lelo Buisa and Jeannette Malonda are of their daughter – rugby star, local activist and all-around athlete Pamphinette (Pam) Buisa.

“Pam had a great childhood; she was full of energy,” Pam’s father Mr. Buisa said. “She had all the support that she needed to fulfil her potential in every aspect.”

When the family immigrated to Canada, they first moved to Vanier – a place Mr. Buisa said remains their community and that they consider it their home neighbourhood, despite having moved to Gatineau years later.

The proud father added he knew Pam was not only talented but had a calling to do well in sport – and had no worries about his daughter playing in one of the roughest sports out there.

Pam’s interest in rugby led her to play for the Ottawa Irish, where she quickly shone as a star player.

“I wasn’t so much concerned about Pam because she was very athletic, and her height, her strength and physicality were a great asset for her,” he said. “Instead, earlier on, the other players were afraid and scared to measure with her.”

As her father, he said he always knew Pam would go far in the sport. As he watched her progress onto the Canadian development team program in 2014, he said he had no doubt she would make it to the Olympics.

And his pride goes deeper than just watching her on the pitch. Rugby also helped his daughter develop the confidence and strength necessary to be a leader in her community, he highlighted.

“Pam is very disciplined and a very respectful child. She’s a very reliable individual and a bold personality. She has natural leadership for whatever she does, whether in sport, work or school,” he said. “Pam’s self-confidence and social ability is effective to inspire and encourage others, radiating both passion and love for whatever she’s involved in… She’s a very reliable kid, assertive, and likes being in charge – I mean in power. She’s not afraid to voice her opinion on what is just and fair.”

When Pam made Team Canada, the family was beyond excited, Mr. Buisa said, though the news that the Olympics were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic was tough to handle.

“It was the most difficult moment for her and us as a family. She worked so hard and sacrificed so much to that point,” he said. “But I’m proud of her! Pam is a strong-minded girl. She doesn’t express much her pains or feelings. She knows how to focus on positive thoughts and behaviours. She handled the Olympics’ postponement pretty well.”

He added she was able to find another focus very quickly in fighting “social inequalities” and supporting her community in Victoria, B.C., where she now lives.

“As for us as a family, I think it was, even more, tougher for us to handle, especially since we were unable to be there physically to comfort her during that moment due to the geo-distance and the Covid restrictions,” Mr. Buisa noted.

As the show must go on, the family is happy the Olympics – Pam’s first – were not cancelled altogether, and they are looking forward to watching her succeed on the world stage.

“She gave everything she had for this,” Mr. Buisa underlined. “We want her to enjoy the moment and have fun over there. This is a great life experience for her.”

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