Americans in CFL Part 2: Owens family finds right balance | Football | CBC Sports

CFLAmericans in CFL Part 2: Owens family finds right balance

Posted: Sunday, September 9, 2012 | 08:00 AM

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Toronto Argonauts star wide receiver Chad Owens, centre, along with his wife Rena, second from left, and their three children split the season between  Mississauga, Ont., and Honolulu. ( Toronto Argonauts star wide receiver Chad Owens, centre, along with his wife Rena, second from left, and their three children split the season between Mississauga, Ont., and Honolulu. (

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Toronto Argonauts star receiver Chad Owens has found the right balance between his football life and his family responsibilities.
Rena Owens was living back home in Honolulu in the early summer of 2010 when she had a decision to make.

Her husband was working in another country for six months, and his $60,000 salary had to pay for accommodations and expenses there and back in the islands.

There were three children to consider, all six and under. That meant thinking about school and friends, family, babysitting. And she missed her partner, badly.

He called and said, "You guys need to come here, and be here with me to enjoy this. I think this is going to be the spot."

The spot was Toronto. In Canada.

Hardly a script from Footballer's Wives, but it's one that has been played out hundreds of times in the recent history of the Canadian Football League, where moving from the States for so many couples is a difficult and emotional decision.

Things worked out.

Chad Owens is a star with the Toronto Argonauts in his second full year in the CFL, and barring injuries he could be around for a long time. Money is better - hardly NFL standards, but it's pushed over six figures now.

The children, Chad Jr. (9), Areana (7) and Sierra-Lynne (5), split their school between Mississauga, Ont., in the fall semester, and Honolulu in the spring.

"At first [when Chad said he was going to Toronto], I was like 'go ahead, do your thing,'" says Rena, sitting on a sofa in the Argos' tiny office trailer at the University of Toronto - Mississauga. "But I was also afraid, because I didn't want to be left with the kids again, but I knew he wanted to go so bad.

"So I pretty much did what I had to do back in Hawaii so he could continue playing football."

The game had taken Chad from the University of Hawaii (where he had walked-on with no scholarship) to the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. From there it was down to Tampa for a bit, back to the Jags, then to the Arena Football League with Colorado.

A torn ACL ended that and, just when it seemed like football was done (even the upstart United Football League wasn't interested) the Montreal Alouettes called and Chad went to Quebec at the start of the 2009 season where he would be on the practice roster, making it into one game.

Culture shock

Rena and the children followed because, to Hawaiians, the concept of Ohana - family - is terribly important and neither could stand being apart from the other.

What they found was a bit of a culture shock.

"When they came to Montreal in the first year ... we're in downtown Montreal ... and you feel like you are in a different country, you know - the culture, the experience, for them they didn't like it," says Chad.

"We're up in a hotel, and the French speaking, and it's hard to communicate, and the Canadian dollar, it was just so new, it was a total shock," says Chad.

Even something so simple as change.

"You have $10 in your pocket in change, and you don't even know it. It's just like change - you have a dollar and a half, you think."

For the Owens family, second time was a charm because they found in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto, a lifestyle more like Honolulu - minus the weather, the beach and the family, of course.

Wives down to earth

Rena Owens found a nice surprise when she arrived in the CFL - the wives weren't anything like in the NFL.

"There's a total difference here," she says. "They are more down to earth, more open, laid back, casual."

Chad smiles over, he wants to get his own two cents in about the NFL wives.

"They are High maka maka (Hawaiian urban for stuck up, or high maintenance). 'My husband makes millions, and I'm up here getting my nails done, and I have this Louis Vuitton bag, and who's that rookie wife over there?'"

Rena smiles back.

In Canada, everyone is basically making the same money and has had the same experience.

"When I was new, I had other wives who had been here and lived here come up to me and they made me feel comfortable, inviting us to their house to have a play date, little things like that, out to the splash pad, letting the kids run around," Rena says.

Now, she does the same thing, acting like den mother and friend.

"So when someone new comes in, I'll introduce myself and invite them for play dates, whatever keeps them busy."

The Canadian and American wives mix freely, too.

"We have ladies night, dinner and a movie."

With the kids?

"No, the husbands watch the kids."

Decisions are still plenty. The Owens's have worked out a system where they leave the kids in school for the fall here, then take them back for the winter in Hawaii.

Splitting costs

Relative stability raised its head when veteran Canadian running back Andre Durie and his wife invited Chad and Rena to share their house in Burlington, Ont., splitting costs.

The back and forth will continue for cultural reasons. And none of them are interested in a Canadian winter, not when there are beaches, boogie boards and all of the cousins and family back home.

"We want our kids to grow up in the Hawaiian culture, and understand what that means, so they know and they understand," says Chad. "It's different when you go to school your whole life [in the islands]."

They wouldn't give up what their kids have learned elsewhere, though.

"From birth, they have been to Florida, they've been to Colorado, they've been to Montreal, they've been to Toronto - so they aren't going to be afraid of change," Chad says. "And they aren't afraid of travel. A lot of people from Hawaii, they are afraid of travel."

Now, there's just the challenge of finding a place back in Honolulu again when they go back after the season, and the fall term, end here.

Just another bump on the road.

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