The first time Michael O’Connor got a chance to visit with Justin Trudeau was back when the UBC Thunderbirds quarterback was a ninth grade student at Ottawa’s Ashbury College and Trudeau was still a member of parliament.
On Wednesday, with the Vanier Cup in tow, O’Connor headed back to his old stomping grounds, this time with the opportunity for an official audience with the Canadian prime minister, himself a UBC graduate.
“He did remember talking to the Ashbury kids, so for me growing up in Ottawa and then having him as an alumnus of UBC, today was so special,” said O’Connor, who in his redshirt freshman season this past fall led the Thunderbirds all the way to the Vanier Cup championship final, where they beat the Montreal Carabins 26-23 in the title game.
“I got a chance to show him my (Vanier Cup) ring and that was special, too,” continued O’Connor.
“We got a chance to talk football and he had an uncle (Tom Walker) who played for the B.C. Lions (1962-63),” continued the QB who was able to let Trudeau know that he attended a mini-camp with the B.C. Lions prior to his first season with the ‘Birds.
In a comical moment, O’Connor offered Trudeau a chance to try on his Vanier Cup ring, but the PM politely begged off.
“He grew up in Montreal so he has a lot of friends there, and he didn’t want to put the ring on,” said O’Connor. “But that was fine. It was great just to be able to show it to him.”
O’Connor, set to enter UBC’s Sauder School of Business in the fall, said he was especially able to feel, through sport, the universal language that was being spoken between he and the prime minister.
“That is one thing that we all share,” said O’Connor. “Sports is a big connector, something we can have in common with each other. It was something special to win a national championship in Canada, so having today, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and something I will never forget.”
O’Connor added that while he was the one able to chat with Trudeau, he was doing so on behalf of a much wider community.
“It was definitely an honour to be there to represent my UBC teammates,” said O’Connor. “But also all of the student-athletes at UBC, and even the entirety of the UBC student population.”
Accompanying O’Connor was UBC’s senior manager of communications and media relations Len Catling, as well as UBC 13th Man Foundation founder David Sidoo, his wife Manjy and their son Jordan, The Province’s 2014 Head of the Class Adversity Award winner.
Video: Len Catlin, senior manager of communications and media relations