Local basketball star playing pro in Norway
By Erin Knutson
Bobbi-Jo Colburn grew up in Cranbrook. The 22-year-old fourth-year sociology major at the University of Calgary (U of C) has been a member of the Dinos Women’s Basketball team for over four years. She turned pro this year after deciding COVID-19 wasn’t going to stop her from playing the sport she loves.
Following on the heels of the pandemic, Bobbi flew to Norway at the end of October after accepting an invitation to play with Baerum in the BLNO league.
“It was a real bummer senior year. It was super late in the season (most contracts are decided in late July and August), but I decided I wanted to try and find a pro contact,” said Colburn.
Bobbi’s bold move came after the season was cancelled.
Games had been suspended for 2020/21, and she was determined to play. Looking for an opportunity to get back on the court, she discovered that Baerum was looking for an international player.
Everything fell into place, and with the help of an agent and her two Dino coaches, Damian Jennings and Fatih Akser, Bobbi won the spot.
“That was that,” she said
The 5’11 athlete informed her parents of the abrupt plans to leave school for pro ball and found herself at the Calgary airport on her way to make the dream of playing professional basketball a reality, crossing the pond and braving pandemic conditions in the process.
With her family’s support, the 22-year-old flew from Calgary to Toronto before reaching Amsterdam, Oslo, and her final destination, Baerum.
Airports were like a wasteland, void of passengers, and eerily quiet, according to Colburn.
“Travelling was like going through a ghost town; it was weird flying internationally, and the airports were empty,” she said.
The pro basketball player enjoyed a row of seats to herself for the overseas flight, despite wearing a mask, and with anti-maskers on the plane who had difficulty following protocol.
Security on both ends of her flight included temperature checks and COVID-19 testing. Bobbi tested negative. Following her arrival in Norway, Colburn spent two weeks in quarantine but was not in total isolation.
“I was able to go to practice and to watch with a mask, and my roommate was completely nice,” she said.
According to the superstar athlete, empty seats have replaced cheering fans at the gym, and a virtual audience has taken its place with games viewed digitally through media outlets.
Bobbi’s parents have subscribed to a local Norwegian newspaper to see their daughter play on the international stage.
Colburn played her first professional game mid-November in Norway versus Ullern and has had a stellar season thus far, accumulating points, rebounds, assists, and leading her team to victory.
“It’s been surreal, and it didn’t hit me for a while, and it’s so exciting and shocking to go pro. If you had asked me a year ago if I thought I would be playing pro, I would have said absolutely not,” said Colburn.
According to Bobbi, most pro sports have resumed as the pandemic has evolved, but all without a standard component.
“There are no fans, it’s crazy, and it’s not what I’m used to,” she said.
It’s been a transition for the Cranbrook resident, who is enjoying her pro experience and her new teammates, but she acknowledged missing friends and family.
“I’ve been Facetiming a lot, and it’s amazing that I will be having a Norwegian Christmas,” she said of holidays away from home and keeping up with friends and family with the eight hour time difference.
Bobbi has been on the court since eight years-of-age and credits her passion for basketball to her family, especially her parents, Mom Sophie Lapierre, and Dad, Greg Colburn, who has coached senior boys basketball at Mt. Baker Secondary School for years. His influence ignited something in the star player and helped shape her into the powerhouse she is today.
“I developed a love for the game through Dad, I was always at the gym, and practicing skills, working out, and playing ball throughout the summer. It was great. He was my mentor and gave me so much advice. I’ve spent my whole life working toward this. I absolutely credit my family for my success,” she said.
Team sports have been a way of life for Bobbi, who has spent over a decade playing girls’ sports.
“Sports have really influenced my life, working with others for a common goal, and we’ve done amazing things. Sports has given me confidence,” she said.
According to Bobbi, dedication, hard work, determination, and the will to do whatever it takes to get to the top are part of the recipe for success. She reminisced on early mornings, late nights, weekends, and countless reps, shots, and games.
“Everything is really behind the scenes, you have 25 practices before one game, and it’s a mental battle,” she says of the experience. “You are fighting yourself and going to the gym when you don’t feel like it.”
The pandemic has shifted the players’ focus. Bobbi realized through quarantine and with lockdown that she felt lost without basketball. According to Bobbi, being well-rounded and grounded was essential to moving along the trajectory of her life, with the knowledge that pro basketball won’t last forever.
“It was really important to find my identity outside of basketball and to find other interests,” she said.
Exploring Norway’s beauty is part of Bobbi’s plan to embrace life to the fullest as she has enjoyed hikes in the mountains and perused museums with social distancing in effect.
Nordic living hasn’t been much of a culture shock for the player, and the weather is similar to Calgary, but she confirms that Norway is always dark.
Despite dark days, the game is bright, and Bobbi is playing an excellent season. She credits this to time spent with her Dinos team, where she honed her skills in what she describes as a high-paced team with great chemistry.
“There is a sense of family off and on the court,” she said of the team.
Four years ago, Bobbi joined the U of C Dino’s basketball team and mostly played point guard, and with her new team, she plays all positions, which has been an adjustment for the player who describes the change as ‘good for her tool kit’.
On advice, her coaches continue to inspire her over text messages like “play the game coming to you, go with the game, not against it.
“I think that’s important for anything, you can’t force things, or be impatient, you have to adapt, and that’s important, whether that’s school, work, relationships, teammates in life and forever. Don’t go halfway, work hard, and don’t take short cuts,” she said.
Bobbi describes herself as average in height compared to some of the other players, despite being 6′ in basketball shoes, with team members heading into the 6′, 3” range.
“I’ve always been tall in comparison to other girls, but honestly, it’s important to have confidence. I’m like, I’m going to wear heels and rock it,” Bobbi says of embracing her statuesque and athletic physique off the court.
Playoffs are slated for March 2021, and Bobbi hopes to get to the finals and play a Championship game before heading back to Canada.
“For all aspiring players, follow your dreams and don’t stop, pursue what you want in life, and don’t give up,” she said.
Bobbi will resume classes at U of C after the season. Colburn plans to finish her degree and is looking forward to seeing how life unfolds on and off the court.
“It has always been my dream to play professionally, it’s surreal, and it’s great. I’m not too stressed about the future – I’m content to go slow and see what happens.”
Lead image: Bobbi-Jo Colburn in action in the Baerum BLNO league in Norway. Photos submitted