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Whitehorse student collects soccer balls for Kenyan youth

“He said, ‘Oh, Nicholas is going to come? I’ll give him a soccer ball project.’”
Whitehorse’s Nicholas Connell is collecting soccer balls on behalf of Run for Life to be distributed in Kenya later this month when he and his mother visit the country. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

One young Yukoner will be making a unique in-person delivery when he visits Eldoret, Kenya, later this month.

Nicholas Connell, 11, has collected nearly 100 soccer balls he and his mother, Maura Sullivan, will be delivering when they travel to the Rift Valley Resource Centre after Whitehorse’s John Carson, program director for Run for Life, invited the pair to visit the non-for-profit organization’s facility in Kenya.

When Carson learned Connell would be travelling with Sullivan, Carson asked Connell to help.

“John asked me if I wanted, since I was going, to bring some soccer balls to help,” said Connell.

Initially, Connell’s goal was simply to collect 50 soccer balls — now he has 87 ready for the flight.

Connell started his efforts by reaching out to Canadian Tire.

“First I wrote a letter to Canadian Tire, and then I went there and asked them if they wanted to make a donation,” said Connell.

The store provided Connell with a handful of balls plus a gift certificate, which he then used to buy a pump and close to two-dozen more balls.

After that, he focused his efforts on soccer organizations in the city.

Connell wrote a letter to Yukon Soccer Association executive director John MacPhail, which he delivered to the Sport Yukon office.

“(MacPhail) wasn’t there,” said Sullivan. “Then (Connell) made a pitch and they took a video of Nicholas giving the pitch… and they gave it to John.”

The YSA, as it happens, had a number of balls that hadn’t been used for a number of seasons and MacPhail couldn’t turn him down.

“He kind of went, ‘Well you had a good pitch so I think I have to say yes,’” said Sullivan.

That gave Connell another 36 balls to bring with him, pushing his total to 57.

Already at his goal, Connell took MacPhail’s advice and also contacted Whitehorse FC about making a donation.

The club was also happy to help, donating a further 30 balls as well as jerseys.

“They also gave two sets of jerseys,” said Connell. “So they can have two teams.”

Additionally, Connell said his family and friends have been generous in supporting his cause.

Exactly what happens with the leftover funds is a bit up in the air – airline baggage limits mean even deflated soccer balls will quickly take up most of the pair’s suitcase space.

If he can’t spend the money on soccer balls, Run for Life has a number of other initiatives that will benefit from the donations.

“They do lots of other projects,” said Sullivan, explaining Run for Life does many things in Kenya, like drilling wells to provide clean drinking water. “John is so creative, and so he said, ‘Oh, Nicholas is going to come? I’ll give him a soccer ball project.’”

The Run for Life website lists a number of projects the organization is involved in, including paying school fees for students, providing bicycles for students and buying shoes for runners, in addition to the previously-mentioned well drilling.

Connell said he didn’t get a single no from anyone he approached.

“I think I’m just lucky that everyone said yes,” said Connell.

Sullivan agreed.

“Whitehorse is such a giving community,” said Sullivan. “He came up with the idea, he wrote three letters and talked to different people, and he’s now got his suitcases full. I thought it was a really nice testament to the whole community.”

Despite not starting to plan for the trip until September, Connell has already surpassed his goal.

Sullivan said the experience is an opportunity for her son to see the impact one person can make.

“I think it will be a nice experience for Nicholas to be able to feel like you can contribute in little ways,” said Sullivan. “You do a little bit of effort, but it can make a big difference in other people’s lives — that’s what I’m looking forward to most.”

And as for Connell, he’s most looking forward to seeing an elephant or perhaps meeting Laban Rotich, a Kenyan runner who won gold at the 1998 IAAF World Cup in the 1,500 metre.

“I’m just excited to see how they live (in Kenya) and also it’ll be cool to see, like how we have bears here, they have elephants,” said Connell. “I’m looking forward to meeting Laban Rotich because he was a really good runner and I really like running.”

So while Connell’s bags are full, he said anyone inspired to help can donate directly to Run for Life.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at