The Cowichan Valley field hockey community is heartbroken, along with thousands of athletes, students and other individuals throughout the region and province, after the sudden death of coach and teacher Jen Budding on Dec. 8.
Known as Jen van Dyk prior to her marriage, Budding taught at Cowichan Secondary School for 18 years and Mount Prevost Middle School for five years before that, and coached teams in the Cowichan Valley and at the provincial level for most of that time. Budding, who was 49, leaves behind her husband, Paul, and seven-year-old son, Leo.
“So much life lived and so much life left to live,” commented Gillian Braun, who coached successful teams alongside Budding for nearly two decades.
Braun and Budding played field hockey together at the University of Victoria, then got teaching jobs in the Cowichan Valley within a year of each other. They were also neighbours, and Braun said Budding was a “second mom” to her own kids.
“Coaching was just one of many ways we were connected,” Braun said. “The reason we were such close friends is because she was such an amazing person. She was positive, she was someone you could rely on, she was a light that can make difficult situations be OK.”
Braun was usually the more vocal of the two coaches, but she and Budding balanced each other.
“As coaches, we knew our roles,” Braun said. “Maybe I had the more intense-looking role on the outside, but it was a true partnership; we always consulted with each other. She was equally intense, but from a different point of view.”
Perri Espeseth played under Budding and Braun from 2003 to 2005, then coached alongside Budding briefly. She is now a teacher and coaches the Cow High field hockey teams with fellow former T-Bird Caitlin Erickson, and credited Budding with inspiring much of the path she pursued.
“Jen greatly influenced my field hockey career as a player and coach, and it was under her leadership and coaching when I played at Cowichan Secondary that I really started to understand what it felt like to be a part of a team that was like a family,” Espeseth said. “She always made everyone feel valued, she instilled confidence, and she brought people together with her infectious smile, her laugh and beautiful twinkle in her eye. It was because of Jen that I felt the urge to come back to the Valley to begin my teaching career and to join her on the turf as a coach with the senior field hockey team at Cowichan Secondary.
“I saw it as an honour to coach with her for a couple years before she started to step away to spend time with her young family, but after 16 plus years with the team, it is incredible to think of the impact she has had on young female athletes.”
Another former student player under Budding, Sara Phillips became a colleague and friend of Budding later on.
“She had such a bright, bubbly and vibrant personality,” Phillips said. “She was so kind and sweet, yet had the best sense of humour. She absolutely loved and adored her family, especially her son and would light up when she talked about him. She will be tremendously missed within our entire community, as she has had an impact on many.
Budding and Gillian Braun coached the Cowichan Secondary Thunderbirds to 15 consecutive Island titles and seven provincial championships, but Braun emphasized that it was never about the victories.
“Our purpose was to create an amazing opportunity for our players to grow together and experience lifelong memories together,” she said. “The rest was just a byproduct of that work by everyone wanting to be part of the T-Bird field hockey community.”
Budding managed two more provincial championship teams that were coached by Espeseth and Erickson, helping hand the reins over to people who are just as passionate about the sport as she was, which was the goal all along, according to Braun.
The players Budding coached were just the tip of the iceberg among the many people who will remember Budding fondly.
“She taught thousands of kids, and I don’t think you’d find anyone who had Jen as a teacher that would say anything negative about her,” said Braun. “It’s a loss for the community, her family, all of us.”
A celebration of life is planned for this Saturday, Dec. 21, at Shawnigan Lake School. The celebration will take place in the chapel at 10 a.m., followed by a reception in Marian Hall.