With everything that has taken place in 2020, nobody would blame Mackenzie Rigg if he took a moment to feel sorry for himself, but that is not in his DNA. Instead, he is putting on a brave face and remaining positive months after being diagnosed with Astrocytoma Grade IV – brain cancer.
With his business degree in his back pocket, Rigg was enjoying summer as he prepared to enter law school at the University of Calgary when he started suffering from a rash of headaches. After a few check ups with some doctors in Victoria, nobody could find the problem, so they booked him in for a CT scan. The scan quickly revealed the horrifying news.
“It’s pretty surreal hearing that from doctors. I didn’t know how to act,” said Rigg, who served as the Vikes captain for his final year in 2018-19. “It took a few weeks to come to grips with it.”
As Rigg prepared for radiation, word about his illness began to spread across campus.
First telling his family and his girlfriend, Trinity Kettyls of the women’s soccer team, he eventually got around to telling his former teammates.
“It was really challenging to hear that news. My main thought was how unfair it was; Mackenzie is one of the fittest people I know. He doesn’t deserve this,” said Kettyls.
Upon hearing the news, Rigg’s former teammate, Logan Fisher, started brainstorming ways to help out.
“I thought it was an awful joke at first. Never do you think something like that can happen to a guy like Mack. Once it set in, I just sat in shock and disbelief. I didn’t want it to be true,” said Fisher. “Right then, I knew I wanted to do something that could help him out.”
“We knew it was going to be difficult to arrange something during COVID. After a few meetings and being backed by both soccer programs, we decided to come up with a run to raise money for brain cancer research,” said Fisher.
Starting this Friday, members of both soccer programs will participate in Vikes Kick Cancer run, a five-kilometre loop starting (and finishing) in James Houlihan Park. From there, they will run south to Arbutus Road, down Finnerty Road to the aptly named Mackenzie Avenue and back up Gordon Head. The plan is to run 270km in three days, as a representation for the 27 Canadians that are diagnosed with brain tumours daily.
“We wanted to make an event out of it. We had no idea what to expect,” said Fisher.
Initially, the group thought that if they raised anywhere between $2,000 – $5,000, it would be considered a success.
It only took a few hours to shatter that mark.
They then adjusted their goal to $10,000, then to $17,000 (in honour of Rigg’s No. 17 with the Vikes) and then $27,000. But they couldn’t set a target high enough.
“When I first heard that they wanted to do this for me, I was honoured. It meant a lot to me and it was quite powerful to think that so many people cared and appreciated me,” said Rigg, 25. “Once the website went up, I would check it each day to see how it was going. Eventually, I couldn’t refresh the page fast enough to keep up with the donations. I have been blown away at how well they have done.”
Once the media got wind of Rigg’s story, it didn’t take long for other programs in the Canada West and across U SPORTS to reach out, comment and donate to the cause. The fundraising got a shot in the arm when the Vancouver Whitecaps of the Major League Soccer and hometown Pacific Football Club of the Canadian Premiere League jumped on board.
“It’s been an incredible response. I still can’t believe what is happening,” said Rigg, a five-year defender with the Vikes. “The soccer community has shown overwhelming support and I can’t believe how lucky I am to be surrounded by these people.”
Once they cracked the $50,000 barrier, it meant that the funds could be turned into a grant in Rigg’s name, where he will select the specific type of tumour that will receive the will the research funds.
“The support we have received from the soccer community has been unreal. It just goes to show that we are all competitors on the field, but off it, we are one big community behind Mackenzie, supporting him throughout his journey. He’s not fighting this alone,” said Kettyls
Rotating between Vancouver and his hometown of Kelowna, Rigg is waiting for the radiation to subside in his head before heading back in for more testing to see how effective the initial treatments were. His next MRI is scheduled for early 2021.
Until then, Rigg and his teammates are hoping this weekend’s run is something more than a splash in the pan. Because of COVID restrictions, only current members of the men’s and women’s soccer programs will be running.They are encouraging people to go on their own 5km walk, run or bike ride and to donate. They would like to see others post their runs by tagging @vikeskickcancer along with the hashtag, #vikeskickcancer, so everyone can follow along. The Vikes Kick Cancer social media accounts are also hosting gift card giveaways from some of their sponsors for people who enter and share their experience online.
Finishing off this weekend’s run, Rigg and Kettyls plan to run the final 5km stretch together.
“We are very excited for this weekend but we’re not sure what it’s going to look like. I wish we could have lots of people out, cheering everyone along, but we can’t because of COVID-19. We will be updating our social media channels with photos and videos though, so everyone can still feel a part of the event,” said Kettyls, a fourth-year forward. “I think when we run that last lap, it’s going to be pretty emotional to bring an end to this amazing fundraising journey.”
Rigg doesn’t plan on giving up his runs anytime soon and hopes the community keeps it going as well.
For more information about supporting the Vikes Kick Cancer run, please visit their website here.