Mikaela Montagano’s grandfather has always been close to her heart. But when the first year centre for the Douglas College Royals women’s soccer team takes to the pitch at Coquitlam’s Town Centre Park to warm up for the team’s games Saturday and Sunday against Vancouver Island University and Capilano University, he’ll be right over her heart.
Montagano, as well as her teammates and coaches, will all be wearing brightly coloured t-shirts during pre-game warmups to show their support for various causes, with the names of the people they’re playing for who may be affiliated with that cause written on the shirts in Sharpie.
Montagano’s grandfather, Giuseppe Zuccaro, died two years ago of cancer. Her t-shirt will be bright pink.
And while pink is specifically linked to breast cancer and Zuccaro was afflicted with prostrate and bone cancer, Montagano said her choice is meant as a general shoutout to anyone with the disease, no matter where it’s landed.
Montagano said her grandfather’s home, just four doors down from her own on Sprice Avenue, was like a second home to her and her two younger siblings. An Italian immigrant, he took great pride in his expansive garden where he grew everything from tomatoes to grapes and beans to figs and even lemons from a special lemon tree he’d brought over from his homeland.
Whenever a crop was ready to harvest, the grandchildren were called to help. Except for the figs, Montagano said. Her grandfather insisted he climb the ladder to pick those because the task was too dangerous for kids.
Zuccaro built his own sprinkler system to ensure the health of his garden. And when he’d host Montagano and her family for dinner, most of the bounty on the table was homegrown.
Montagano said she learned a lot from her grandfather like humility, the value of hard work and pride in doing a job well. She carried those lessons with her onto the pitch as she rose through soccer’s ranks with her club team, Mountain United, and her high school side at St. Thomas More in Burnaby. And, more often than not, when she had success in a game, Zuccarro was there on the sidelines or in the bleachers, cheering her on.
Montagano said she sometimes feels her grandfather’s presence when she’s on the pitch for the Royals, who are ranked ninth in the country and will get a chance to play for a national championship as the tournament’s host in November.
“He said he could do anything,” she said. “Now he’s looking down on me and I can do this for him.”
Montagano, who will also honour other family members and friends who’ve had an encounter with cancer by writing their names on her t-shirt as well, said athletes are in a unique position to promote awareness for various issues. And if one person at the Royals’ games this weekend is motivated to reach out and help because they saw players wearing pink for cancer, orange for MS or red for HIV/AIDS, then the team’s Show Your Colours initiative will have been a success.
• The Royals’ will host VIU at Town Centre Park on Saturday at 1 p.m. Their game against Capilano on Sunday at Town Centre Park will also be at 1 p.m. The men’s games will follow on both days at 3:30 p.m.