'Heart in this job': staff put in the miles to make Riders fans' dreams come true

Within the first five minutes of the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ game against the Blue Bombers, Elizabeth Macaulay’s face goes through a gamut of expressions.

After a stroke, Elizabeth Macaulay wasn't sure if she could ever attend a game again — until she did

Sherbrooke Community Centre recreation coordinator Gilles Turcotte watches the Roughriders' Labour Day Classic with Donovan McAlpine. (CBC News)

Within the first five minutes of the Saskatchewan Roughriders' game against the Blue Bombers, Elizabeth Macaulay's face went through a gamut of expressions.  

The 80-year-old's face flashed with excitement, nervousness and anticipation as the Riders came within inches of a touchdown. Once the team scored, her face brightened into a smile, and she lifted her right arm to the sky as the crowd roared all around her.

Macaulay was just one among the sea of green in the sold-out and hotly anticipated Labour Day Classic event on Sunday. But for her, it was an event three years in the making.

"After I had my stroke, I didn't know whether I'd ever get to see a game again," she said, explaining that the stroke left her unable to use her left arm and leg, and now, she gets around with the help of a wheelchair. But on Sunday, she and nine other residents of Sherbrooke Community Centre were able to attend one of the biggest games of the Riders' season.

"This is like, a big deal. I'm so happy," Macaulay said.

It took a lot of effort and months of planning for the centre to be able to take residents on a bus trip from Saskatoon to Regina for the game, said Gilles Turcotte, the recreation co-ordinator with the centre.  

80-year-old Elizabeth Macaulay wasn't sure she would ever attend a Roughriders game again, after having a stroke a few years ago. But with the help of Sherbrooke Community Centre's staff, she was able to celebrate the Roughriders' win over the visiting Blue Bombers during the Labour Day Classic. (CBC News)

The staff had to think ahead about what the weather would be like, what the residents might need and where they would eat — things people usually think about for themselves, but "we have to do that times 10," as Turcotte explained.

"We're not just looking for ourselves; we're making sure our buddies are well cared for as well."

Carol McKay was accompanying her husband Ross to the game. The pair were born in Saskatchewan, and even though they lived in Alberta for a time, they have always bled green.

"This didn't leave us," she said, gesturing at the stadium and crowds. "We were still Riders fans — we couldn't help it!"

Carol McKay says she wouldn't have been able to take her husband Ross out to a Riders' game on her own, but was able to do it with the Sherbrooke Community Centre. (CBC News)

On her own, she said she couldn't manage taking her husband to the stadium, but the trip was possible with support from the staff at the Sherbrooke Community Centre.

"They must have their heart in this job or they wouldn't be doing it, because it's a very, very hard job," she said, her voice thick with emotion. "They just do what they need to do."

But Turcotte waved off suggestions that an activity like Sunday's was more complicated than any other day.

Of the centre's nearly 270 residents, he said many are keen for the opportunity to attend a Roughriders game, to feel the fan excitement in the air and watch the game live, with its explosions of sound and colour.   

"That's a very normal thing to want, and so we want to share that with our elders, and make sure that they get as much of that as [they] can," he said.

All of those efforts made it possible for Macaulay to be at the stadium where she could be one in that sea of green, where she got to sing the national anthem as a giant Canadian flag rippled on the field, to rap her hands on the stands after a good play, and watch her beloved Riders battle it out on the field — and she is grateful to the people who made it possible.

"They're a good group, they're really good people," Macaulay said.

"They're a tremendous staff."

About the Author

Janani Whitfield spent 10 years working in the newspaper industry in Alberta before joining CBC Saskatchewan as a web writer in 2017. Contact her at on on Twitter, @WhitfieldJanani.