A League of His Own

Kobe Funk stands rinkside as a group of young men stickhandle the puck, carving ice from one end of the arena to the other. A whistle blows as the players return to the boards for further instruction.

Watching future prospects for the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League (KIJHL) is just one of the many roles Kobe has taken on since he started volunteering with the North Okanagan Knights Hockey Club.

While now poised to reach his ultimate goal of becoming a sports team manager, Kobe has had to go through a long journey to find his footing.

Born premature, Kobe suffered a stroke and other trauma at the start of his life. The doctors soon discovered that he had the neurological condition known as cerebral palsy, which impairs movement and muscle function. Kobe’s family was told that he might never walk or talk.

Learning to Walk Before You Can Run

At the age of seven, Kobe and his family moved to Vernon from Terrace, BC. By then, he had undergone several surgeries to help him with his mobility.

“I believe I went through seven-to-10 operations. I had my femurs rotated, my Achilles operated on, as well as many foot corrections,” Kobe recalls. “My parents did a lot of early detection. When I was three, they started sending me to a clinic in Portland, Oregon for occupational and physical therapy.”

When Kobe was younger, he always dreamt about being an athlete. A self-professed Canucks fan, he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his younger brother, Zachary, who has been a prospect with the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

“I used to spend hours in my room looking at my Canucks poster I had on my wall or staying up late on Saturday night watching Hockey Night in Canada, pretending to be a hockey player in my red Canada team sweater. I knew It would be a long process, and there was a stage where I thought my dream was over.”

Instead, Kobe started exploring other avenues.

A Knighted Position

In 2018, after taking part in Community Futures North Okanagan’s Employ Youth Employability Skills Training Program, Kobe started working with former WorkBC Vernon employment advisor Neil Thompson to find suitable work and pursue his main passion.

“I was picky with what I wanted to do. I was drawn to sports, but I wasn’t sure if there was anything out there for me. I gave Neil a hard time, but he stuck with me. He’s also a sports fan, so that helped.”

With help from WorkBC’s Customized Employment placement, Kobe connected with North Okanagan Knights head coach Dean McAmmond.

“Coach Dean knew my brother, and he took me under his wing,” Kobe says.

Given a volunteer position as the Knights’ stats recorder and video assistant, Kobe has been working with the team this past season and says it has been an invaluable experience.

Through his connection with the Knights, Kobe has met a few critical figures in the game, including Winnipeg Jets’ General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and NHL veteran Stacy Roest, Assistant Manager and Director of Player Development with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“My ultimate goal is to become the general manager of an NHL team. There are only 32 positions in the field, but lots of different levels in management, so I hope to work my way up,” says Kobe.

Nowhere to Go But Up

While working with the Knights has been a dream position, Kobe has also been able to find paid work, thanks to WorkBC Vernon. Now employed at the Home Depot, Kobe has gained even more confidence.

“Finding work and attaining a goal takes a positive attitude as you constantly have to prove yourself. Some people don’t think I can lift things or that I always need help. I am here to prove to them and myself that I can accomplish anything and that there is value in hiring people with different abilities.”

Besides helping the Knights and lifting heavy bags of cement at Home Depot, Kobe has also accomplished a few other goals.

He has built up his strength thanks to working out with his personal trainer Rhonda Catt at the Training House in Kal Tire Place North and has also joined the Canadian Para Soccer cerebral palsy team, with a goal of one day playing in the Paralympics.

Kobe is also going through academic upgrading to meet the requirements to enter the recreation and sports management program at Vancouver Island University next year.

“My love of sports has helped me in more ways than one as I can’t stay stagnant or my muscles seize up,” he says. “While I used to be quite introverted and shy, now my confidence is building. I am comfortable in social interactions, and I can take control of situations. I have also been working on my public speaking. I feel like the phoenix is rising,” says Kobe.

Are you looking for meaningful work? WorkBC offers job options and services designed to support people with varying abilities, including job counselling, training, work placements, and more. Contact us at 250-545-2215 for more information.