Jeff Campbell describes the competition as constant.
Pretty much every aspect of life can be turned into a competition for Sam
and Venel Campbell.
Who can tie their shoes quickest. Who can eat the most at dinner. It goes
on and on.
“It has been like that from the get-go. It started with who could get their
seatbelt on in their child seat first in the car. It’s everything,” Jeff
says with a laugh from his home in Keswick Ridge, N.B. “They’re both very
competitive. There’s no peace when they’re around. Even at 18 and 19 years
old, it’s who lifted more weight in the gym today, who went to the gym
more, who ran farther – they’re constantly able to push each other. And
they’re each other’s best friend, too. With two boys, that’s to be
“One thing that has been clear during the pandemic is having each other has
been very helpful. They have pushed each other, trained each other and
they’ve had each other. A lot of young athletes or people in general have
been alone and haven’t been able to see their friends. They have a built-in
best friend even though they have their own friends as well.”
Sam and Venel are your typical Canadian boys in many ways. They grew up in
a small town, were handed hockey sticks and skates at a young age, learned
to skate on a pond behind their house and fell in love with the game.
The Campbell boys played minor hockey from U7 through to their U15 years,
and continue to climb the ranks, with the brothers now playing Junior A in
the Maritime Hockey League, Sam a member of the South Shore Lumberjacks and
Venel with the Pictou County Crushers. Hockey has been a major part of
their lives for as long as they can remember.
But this Canadian hockey tale is different than many others as well. Sam
and Venel were born in Haiti, abandoned as young children before being
adopted by Jeff and his wife Colleen O’Connell and brought to Canada when
Sam was four years old and Venel was three.
Jeff Campbell, from the world of IT, and O’Connell, a rehabilitation
professional, started a non-profit organization called Team Canada Healing
Hands in 2002, which provides education and training for persons with
disabilities and rehabilitation medicine in areas of low resource. The
organization, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, started
by working in Haiti but now aids people in various countries around the
world, with more than 500 volunteer medical rehabilitation professionals
During one of the group’s early trips to Haiti, Colleen heard that Sam had
been abandoned at the general hospital in Port-au-Prince and, upon learning
more of his story, she and Jeff started the process to adopt Sam. They
later adopted Venel and the family of four started its life in New
Hockey was the perfect introduction to Canada for the boys.
“We live out in the country, so we have a lot of land and there’s a pond
area in the back,” Sam says. “We would go out there, skate. At that time,
that’s the first time we had seen snow or ice so that was very new, and we
fell in love with it right away. We would get our skates strapped on and
learn to skate on the back pond. I would have started playing organized
hockey around six or seven [years old] in our little community of Keswick
Sam was the first to start playing minor hockey. But like many little
brothers, Venel wasn’t too far behind.
“I fell in love with the game of hockey so quickly,” Venel says. “I got my
first pair of skates when I was about four or five and would skate on the
pond. I would always watch my brother play hockey and I loved watching him
play and wanted to play so bad. They let me play the next year and I fell
in love with the game.”
The boys practiced, pushed each other and became good hockey players. Being
one year apart in age, they played in the same division every other year.
One season that stands out for both of them was U13, when the Campbell
brothers both cracked the AAA Express in Fredericton. They were able to go
to the rink together, practice and play on the same team and, as an added
bonus, Jeff was the coach.
Colleen, a swimmer, and Jeff, a hockey player, grew up in athletic
families. They learned the value of team sport and are pleased to now see
what hockey and sport has given to Sam and Venel.
“What it’s really taught them or supported them with is confidence. Venel,
particularly, has been extremely small his whole life. When he came to
Canada at three-and-a-half years old, he was only 23 pounds but, when you
watch him skate, no one sees how small he is,” says Colleen. “It’s enabled
them to have a confidence in their own selves. And it’s also taught them
about the ups and downs of life. You lose a game or you don’t make a team
or you’re not picked to be the award winner, that’s what life is like. It’s
also enabled them as they’ve gotten older to [learn] about responsibility.
It’s instilled this good sense of taking responsibility for your fitness,
your participation, your attitude. It’s helped them learn to deal with
different types of personalities.
“We have kids who can do their own laundry, they can order in a restaurant,
they know how to behave when they travel, they know how to interact and
talk to adults. These are all things they have got to learn by being in the
sports and team world, which are hugely important.”
The Campbell boys are extremely grateful for the lives they have in Canada.
But Haiti will always be in their hearts. The family has taken two trips to
Haiti over the years, with additional visits planned for the future. And
with Sam and Venel entering adulthood – both are studying as well as
playing hockey, with Sam at the University of New Brunswick and Venel at
St. Francis Xavier University – the boys would love to get more involved in
Healing Hands and helping out their home country.
“When I was younger, we went back to Haiti and we were able to help all of
these kids there and we were able to give clothes and read them stories,”
Venel says. “It felt like I belonged where I was at. It was nice to give
back to the country where I came from. I always feel like in the future,
that I’ll have some importance and I’ll do something for Haiti. It is my
home and it’s where I came from, I can’t really forget about it. I just
want the country to be better, and anything I can do to help revive that
would be awesome.”
At the centre of the Campbell family is love. Love for the game of hockey,
love for Haiti and Canada, love for each other. That love is evident when
you ask Sam and Venel about their relationship with their parents.
“They are the best. I have no other words to describe them. Without them,
we wouldn’t be here; they have given us such a better and fortunate life,
basically saved our lives,” Sam says.
Adds Venel: “As the years went by, we just grew closer together as a
family. It’s not just me and my brother who are competitive, my whole
family is competitive. We all want to do the best and we all want the best
for each other. I can’t thank my parents enough for what they’ve done for
me, all the money and time they’ve put into my education and hockey and
everything that let me be the guy I am today.”