Fraser Valley women's basketball players (left to right) Natalie Rathler, Maddy Gobeil and Lauryn Walker each provided inspirational moments this week as part of the Cascades' week-long virtual climb of Mt. Everest. (Photos by Dan Kinvig property of UFV Athletics 2020. All Rights Reserved. Photo graphic special for Varsity Letters courtesy of Gabriel Lynn)
Feature University Women's Basketball

A Sunday Read: How UFV Cascades’ women’s basketball strengthened its bond on a virtual climb to the top of Mt. Everest!

ABBOTSFORD — Al Tuchscherer was watching the nightly news recently when a story came across the screen which immediately sparked his imagination.

“They had a human interest story about this gentleman who I guess always wanted to climb Mt. Everest,” began the head coach of the Fraser Valley Cascades women’s basketball team. 

“And he decided to take this time, as we’re all isolating ourselves, to walk the stairs of his house the equivalent of the height of Mt. Everest,” continued Tuchscherer of the world’s highest mountain. “I thought it was such an interesting story, and as a coach you’re always applying things to your own team… trying to keep them connected, so I thought I could turn it into a kind of competition. It just took off from there.”

That’s putting it mildly.

As challenging as it has been during this time of pandemic for all teams to not only keep their fitness, but to maintain that sense of a familial bond with each other, UFV’s climbing challenge checked off virtually every box imaginable, bringing together, in a virtual sense of course, not only the players and coaches, but their family, friends, and even complete strangers.

This past Monday, the Cascades split into four separate teams to embark on a week-long challenge in which they would record and report, on a daily basis, the number of stairs each had climbed.

Only up-steps were counted, and when the contest wraps up later today (April 26), both individual and team winners crowned.

The goal was not specifically to meet the amount of steps required to climb the 29,035 feet to the top of Mt. Everest, yet the fabled peak was certainly an inspiration for the Cascades players, whose own athletic department hashtag just happens to be #WeClimbWeConquer.

Fraser Valley guard Maddy Gobeil brought a true family feeling to the Cascades’ week-long climbing challenge. (Photo by Dan Kinvig property of University of the Fraser Valley athletics 2020. All Rights Reserved)

For the record?

“When you go on-line, it’s all over the place,” Tuchscherer said of the actual number of steps to climb Mt. Everest. “I think some were from base camp, some were from sea level, others were a straight line. So I just took the one that I saw the most, and that was 58,000 steps.”

Depending on your level of fitness, a couple of trips up your own 15-step staircase might be enough of a test, but the Cascades’ players  proved worthy enough, from a cardio standpoint, of joining Sir Edmund Hillary on his historic 1953 climb to the top of the world.

Tuchscherer himself managed 200 steps the first day and knew he would be at the bottom of the individual standings.

“That same day there were a number of players who did over 2,000, and then the next day someone moved it up to 5,000,” the coach.

The team’s friendly intensity level just kept climbing as the week progressed, and things began to reach near-comical levels when Tuchscherer began adding new dimensions to the challenge.

UFV women’s basketball coach Al Tuchscherer kept his team virtually connected through a unique team challenge this week. (Photo by Dan Kinvig property of University of the Fraser Valley athletics 2020. All Rights Reserved)

“That’s when things started to get really interesting,” he said. “I would text them and tell them that for the next hour, it was double steps… two steps for every one you took. On other days they could sub someone else in for them for the afternoon.”

The stair totals and the overall zeal had begun to escalate to the point that Tuchscherer became concerned that one of his players might get injured, so after he consulted with UFV strength coach Matt Chapdelaine “we decided to have a day where you could substitute a family member for yourself.”

Maddy Gobeil, the Cascades’ rising second-year point guard, whom Tuchscherer calls “the most competitive person I know” brought in her mother to do the challenge.

“And she did 11,000 steps,” the coach said, barely able to contain his laughter.

It didn’t stop there.

She may have been on the other side of the world, yet nothing, including the time of day, stopped Fraser Valley Cascades’ guard Lauryn Walker from joining her teammates on their virtual climbing challenge. (Photo by Dan Kinvig property of University of the Fraser Valley athletics 2020. All Rights Reserved)

Lauryn Walker, the team’s rising second-year guard from Sydney, Australia, refused to let the fact that she was living life Down Under some 17 hours ahead of her teammates get in the way of the challenge.

“She is on a completely different clock than us, but any time I would send out a challenge, she would send me something right back,” Tuchscherer said. “I told her ‘Lauryn, it’s 3 o’clock in the morning where you are.’ She’d say ‘I know, but I’ve got to get on the stairs.’”

And perhaps the most heartwarming moment came courtesy of the team’s rising third-year forward Natalie Rathler.

“She couldn’t get someone to sub in for her, so she posted something on Instagram, and she got a reply from a complete stranger who did 7,000 steps for he,” Tuchscherer said.

When UFV’s Natalie Rathler couldn’t find a partner to team up with her during the Cascades’ virtual climb up Mt. Everest this week, a complete stranger answered her call for help. (Photo by Dan Kinvig property of University of the Fraser Valley athletics 2020. All Rights Reserved)

The idea seems to have legs.

Tuchscherer says he’s heard that a couple of club basketball teams have taken on similar stair-climbing challenges.

Tuchscherer himself has made big strides.

He’s gone from that first-day total of 200 steps to a best of 3,000 steps, which he says was a solid two hours of work.

“I thought that was pretty special, and then we had a sister day, too,” adds the coach, who got to watch his two basketball-playing daughters (rising second-year UFV forward Deanna and rising Grade 11 G.W. Graham high school star Julia) test out what is surely a well-trod family staircase.

“The common thread is they need to interact,” Tuchscherer says of his team. “They need to connect with each other, they need to support each other, and get to know each other. It’s been completely interactive, and a completely different way of team building. And, it’s been so much fun.”

UFV head coach Al Tuchscherer, huddling with his team this past season, is hopeful other teams will find ways to maintain their connection to each other during this time of global pandemic, (Photo by Dan Kinvig property of University of the Fraser Valley athletics 2020. All Rights Reserved)

In the end, for the #WeClimbWeConquer Cascades, it won’t be as much about mimicking the steps to the top of Mt. Everest as it will have been about that actual journey.

“Each of the four teams have already climbed Mt. Everest,” Tuchscherer said, noting that as of Friday morning no individuals had managed the 58,000 steps. “But they still have three days to go.

Of course, in the biggest picture of all, thanks was being given just for being part of a team, which is something we all need right now.

“It’s such a hard time and you have to keep it in perspective as a basketball coach,” Tuchscherer says. “There are people who are really suffering right now health-wise, and isolation is very tough for some people. To be a part of a basketball community where you do have people you can check in with each day, and who can be there for each other… that’s pretty much what sports is all about.”

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