As evening falls, Dan Stoddard arrives at the college and makes his way to Connections with a list in hand. He passes the paper to a clerk at the counter. At 6 foot 8, he towers over the clerk as they work to navigate what is written on his piece of paper.
The two then disappear behind the stacks and they search for a series of books Stoddard will need to complete his new semester in the business administration – accounting program. The giant man politely thanks the clerk before he leaves.
He makes his way across the campus towards the gym to drop his books in the locker room where he then changes into some black shorts, and a t-shirt with the green Thunder logo printed across its chest. He exits on to the gym floor and prepares to start his practice.
Stoddard, 40, is a forward with the Algonquin Thunder basketball team. His dream began a few years ago when he attended an annual basketball alumni game with his old high school.
At 400 pounds, he was destroying the opposition.
The game was being reffed by Trevor Costello, whose day job is coach of the Thunder. At one point Costello approached Stoddard.
“He said, ‘Geez, you can play for me,” Stoddard said.
Stoddard saw this as an opportunity to live his dream as a basketball player, while getting a huge discount on his education. After a talk with his wife, he approached Costello the next day to find out if he was serious. Costello said yes.
Stoddard got on the treadmill, and dropped 60 pounds before tryouts. He made the team and has been playing ever since.
“You have to push to get yourself to achieve your dreams. This is an opportunity to reach my goal, and achieve my dream…especially at a time when I thought it was all gone,” said Stoddard.
Since he joined the team has gained extensive media attention. Many major Canadian outlets sought Stoddard out. He has also been covered by the Washington Post, and said he was interviewed by a publication in New Zealand.
Thunder forward David Tshimanga sees Stoddard as just another member of the team.
“He’s like a father to us,” said Tshimanga. “Having a guy like him on the team helps us feel like more of a family.”
Family is important to Stoddard. When he was 20, he put his own dreams on hold when his daughter was born. His son was born three years later. He moved from job to job to support his family before settling as an OC Transpo bus driver.
At first he tried to balance work, school and basketball. When one had to give, he left this job.
His daughter Kailah Stoddard,19, is also a student of the business administration program at Algonquin. Their paths don’t overlap all that much on campus as her father takes most of his courses online.
“He was trying to make a happier life for my mom, me and my brother. Now it’s off of his shoulders and he’s able to do what he wants to do,” she said.
Stoddard also volunteers with various community programs. He works as a coach with Hoop Dreams, and Russell High School’s junior boys basketball team.
Kimberly MacKinnon, the head coach at Russell, said Stoddard’s presence has had a huge effect on the boys.
“Hearing it from someone who is doing it again is an extra motivation,” MacKinnon said.
Stoddard wants to help in other ways and is considering applying to work as a police officer upon graduation so he can further help kids in the community.
“It’s important for the kids to see that if they have
any questions,” said Stoddard. “There’s people who can answer without judging.”