Since the official launch of the Forward Foundation in March 2018, the board had been focused on fundraising in preparation for opening the online application process. However, as fate would have it, the Callanish Society referred Miss Tamara O’Brien and the board instantly knew that supporting her was perfectly aligned with the vision of the Forward Foundation’s inspiration, Christopher Cayford.
The Forward Foundation was introduced to Tamara just prior to the Cayford Gala 2018. A 22-year-old high-performance trampoline gymnast, Tamara had been diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma cancer that spring. Tamara’s initial cancer diagnosis came just after she won the silver medal in women’s double mini-trampoline at the 2017 World Games. Her treatments prevented her from being able to travel and compete in the 2017 World Championships. “We received Tamara’s application and her request struck every member of the Forward Foundation board”, stated Claire Conde, Forward Foundation Chair. Tamara thoughtfully expressed her desire to connect with her Gymnastics community by attending the World Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia from November 7-10, 2018, with close friend and teammate, Pam Kriangkum. It was an event she would have been competing in if it weren’t for her diagnosis. With her application unanimously approved, the Foundation informed Tamara that her trip was going to become a reality. As the first recipient of a Forward Foundation experience, Tamara received an all-expenses-paid trip for two to the Trampoline Gymnastics World Championships in Russia. The plans came together quickly; visa applications submitted, flights and accommodations booked, Russian ruble spending money in hand, and accreditation to take in all the events. Just five days before their departure, the young women received their travel visas and were set to go!
Prior to her departure, Tamara attended the Gymnastics BC annual awards night on November 3rd, where she was presented with the Female Athlete of the Year Award from the provincial sports organization. The following day, with brave and grateful hearts, Tamara and Pam began their journey to Russia. After a few unanticipated delays and over 24 hours of travel, Tamara and Pam arrived at the Team Canada hotel in St. Petersburg on November 6th, one day after Tamara’s 22nd birthday.
Tamara expressed that she was nervous to be at the event as a spectator, but the Forward Foundation, Pam and Gymnastics Canada had made plans to ensure Tamara felt right at home. Upon her arrival at the hotel and re-connecting with Team Canada, she was overwhelmed to see the entire Canadian contingent wearing “We Jump for Tamara” t-shirts. Team Canada welcomed Tamara and Pam with open arms, while proudly supporting Tamara by wearing their shirts throughout the event. It was a well-deserved welcome after a day and a half of travel.
Team Canada had many more heartfelt surprises for Tamara. She was named the flagbearer for the Opening Ceremonies, an honour that had immense meaning to Tamara and served as another reminder that her trampoline community was behind her. Over the course of the event, Tamara took over the @cdngymnastics Instagram and reported on Canada’s bronze medal in the first-ever All-Around Team competition. Tamara was proud to have witnessed Team Canada capture the bronze medal in the team event.
However, that bronze medal would take on new meaning for her. On the final evening of the event, Rosie MacLennan – two-time Olympic gold medalist (2012, 2016) – and the Team Canada athletes surprised Tamara by presenting her with the bronze medal. It was a selfless gesture that left Tamara feeling stunned but truly supported by the community that has been such an integral part of her life. She knew that while she faced her battle with cancer, her gymnastics community was fighting with her.
Tamara and Pam returned home, still overwhelmed by the love and support they experienced by re-joining Team Canada. Trying to find the words to express what the trip meant to her, Tamara said, “the amount of normalcy I experienced being there is amazing. I know I’m not coming back so I feel a deep sadness, but I’m also recharged and feeling joy I didn’t know I could feel anymore. I’m realizing how important community is and that it never goes away. I’m living in the present and appreciating every moment.”
Read more about Tamara’s adventure at the World Championships in her blog: Here