Update from Ellie
Dear Pacific Rim Society,
In November of 2019, my friend Kate and I flew to New Zealand, where we spent December, January, and February touring the country on our bicycles.
We began our trip cycling north from Aukland to the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula, then south along the east coast toward Wellington. The rural land was primarily Maori owned, and residents welcomed us warmly. I was intrigued by the native languages that were spoken and delighted that people were keen to teach me when I asked. Feral horses roamed at random across the countryside, the quality of light felt softer than back home, and the warm spring air was tropical and smelled like wild honeysuckle in the mornings. I often find the beauty of a new place striking, but in the North Island, I found it exceptionally so.
The first week was ‘training’ week, and the Coromandel Peninsula was no joke. The roads lead steeply up and over the highest mountain peaks, and the heat was extraordinary. I came close to vomiting from physical duress many times during the early days. However, I think there are few feelings in the world better than the sweaty, shaky-legged, lung ripping feeling of exertion and accomplishment. Standing at the top of those steep mountain passes I was overwhelmed with love for the world.
We stayed with friends In Wellington and spent a week mountain biking and enjoying the city before ferrying across Cook Strait to the South Island. The ferry docked in Picton, where we disembarked, beginning our cycle south through the dry heat of the Canterbury Planes. Once we reached Queenstown, we headed north and narrowly escaped a massive storm system that followed us up the west coast washing out roads and downing trees just days behind us. Like the warmth of the people in the north, the coastal wilderness of the South Island reminded me of home. We stayed in small town Hokitika a few nights, and after enjoying our last days on the west coast, trained east. We flew home out of Christchurch with over three thousand kilometers covered on our bikes and thunder thighs.
While biking in New Zealand, I learned a lot about Maori culture and language, bike maintenance, how to ask strangers for help (even if it's embarrassing), and I discovered what truly brings me happiness: embracing my love for people, physical exertion, and the outdoors.
I especially remember, during the final leg of the trip, a wonderfully hospitable woman who invited us into her home. Her warmth and confidence reminded me of my grandmother. After Kate and I had showered and eaten, she described her own adventures as a nineteen-year-old cycling through Europe with her best friend. She told us how she had gone on to complete eight years of medical school while raising five children. During those difficult years in her life, memories of the freedom, adventure, and self-sufficiency, she had experienced as a young woman helped keep her going. My own experience during these three months will serve me all my life, and what I have discovered on this trip about myself has reinforced my dedication to pursue what I love.
This January, I will be continuing my program at Camosun College and hope to be enrolled in their Athletic and Exercise Therapy program for the coming school year. Thank you for your continued investment in me and other young people on the coast. As I watch my younger sisters and their peers grow, I am glad to know you are part of the community that supports them.
From the Westerly News
July 26, 2018
Ellie Law is sailing into post-secondary with the West Coast’s largest annual scholarship at her back.
The 18 year-old Tofino local was named the tenth recipient of the Pacific Rim Foundation’s $40,000 Dick Close Scholarship last week.
“I’m so thankful to everyone who made this possible. It’s just such an amazing thing for the youth on the West Coast,” Law told the Westerly News.
“Thank you for encouraging everyone in our high school to try hard and not to be afraid to really achieve their goals.”
The scholarship is awarded annually to a Ucluelet Secondary School graduate who spent at least two years at the school and displayed an exemplary commitment to bettering the lives of others locally and globally.
“I was trying not to expect it because I didn’t want to get my hopes dashed, but I was so excited when I did win it,” Law said. “It’s such an amazing opportunity to be able to go out and pursue your dreams without being held back.”
Law plans to head to Victoria’s Camosun College in the fall to pursue a career working with children with special needs.
“I’ve always really, really, enjoyed hanging out with kids with special needs,” she said.
“They don’t have the same voice, or the same representation in society, as most people do. So, that makes me feel like I have an obligation to help them out.”
She said the scholarship will allow her to not only attend post-secondary, but also to focus on her studies without needing to fret about finding employment.
“I’d have to be working full-time, so it would be a lot harder for me to accomplish my goals,” she said.
She added pursuing the scholarship and earning it has increased her self-confidence and raised her personal expectations.
“It makes you a little bit less anxious and a little bit more eager,” she said. “Now, for me, instead of being afraid that I’m going to aim too high and fail, I think the thing I should be afraid of is aiming too low because I have so much support from my community.”
The scholarship was first handed out in 2009 and Dick Close’s identity as the award’s benefactor remained anonymous until his death in 2016. Earlier this year, Close’s estate bequeathed $1.4 million to the Pacific Rim Foundation.
Close’s brother David, who travelled to Tofino from Woodby Island to attend Law’s celebration, sits on the Pacific Rim Foundation’s board and said his brother ensured the scholarship would remain in place “for 50 years to come, at least.”
David Close said Dick was so grateful for the success he achieved after arriving in Tofino and developing Weigh West Marine Resort, that he wanted to give back to the community.
“It was very important to him because he believed in youth and the future and wanted to give the kids of this community an opportunity to rise above what they might otherwise do by giving them the chance to see a four-year college as a goal,” David said.
“He always valued education. He was a person that grew up and enjoyed education but it was an education that didn’t come through school and he knew he missed that. So, he was trying to give them an opportunity that he didn’t take advantage of himself.”
Close’s widow Holly Baker was also present at Law’s ceremony. She said Close “loved Tofino” and wanted to support local youth.
“It was a really important thing for him,” she said. “He’d be really pleased with the winners that we’ve selected and I just wish them all the best.”
Pacific Rim Foundation president Gary Marks, a retired kindergarten teacher, said Law has been a “ bright shining star ever since she walked into my kindergarten classroom,” and that throughout her education she displayed all the traits the scholarship aims to reward.
“Ellie has shown leadership in her various efforts from the work place, to recreational activities and her ongoing and sparkling involvement with music, theatre and art. Her great gift of sharing her talent with others is inspirational as she passes to others confidence and encouragement, all done with humility and selflessness,” he said.
“Ellie’s abilities and accomplishments have shown in her young life, her strong character and sense of purpose. She is a person who is invested in making the world a better place through a life of purpose.”
With a move to Victoria ahead of her, Law said she plans to visit her hometown often.
“I grew up here. This is where I come from. This is where I’ve had all my support from over the years. This is where my friends and my family are. It’s such a beautiful place,” she said. “It’s a little bit sad to leave, but I’ll definitely be coming back as much as I can.”