January 17, 2019

Feeling at Home: Bighill laying down roots in Winnipeg

Trevor Hagan/CFL.ca

The most famous intersection in Winnipeg may be Portage and Main, but there’s another that is of some importance these days and it’s a crossroads where Adam Bighill, curler Jennifer Jones, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and a brokerage firm called Wellington-Altus all meet.

For Jones, a job with Wellington-Altus helped power her rise to curling gold. The Bombers and Bighill wouldn’t mind the same outcome for them, although the colour they’d have in mind would be silver, or Grey, I suppose.

Bighill, the standout all-star linebacker and the CFL’s reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player, has a new three-year contract with the Bombers and maybe just as importantly, a jumpstart on a life after football with a financial services company that has a history of helping top flight athletes reach for their sporting dreams while developing other skills along the way.

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“Obviously I wanted to come back to Winnipeg, but having another opportunity outside of football to build a career for post-football someday, just really made it a no-brainer,” said Bighill on the same day that his new deal with the Blue Bombers was announced.

The connections are easy to see, right at first glance.

Bighill wanted to prepare for life after the gridiron in the financial services industry. The Chair of the Winnipeg Football Club Board of Directors, Dayna Spiring, is married to Charlie Spiring, the Founder and Chair of Wellington-Altus, a brokerage house where the belief is that Bighill will fit in the way he did in the middle of that Blue Bombers’ defence. Not too difficult to connect those dots.

And Jennifer Jones? Reigning World Women’s Curling Champion and 2014 Olympic gold medal skip? She’s a longtime friend of Dayna Spiring’s (they attended law school together) and beneficiary of the Spirings’ desire to dovetail her pursuit of top-level curling titles while working flexible hours with Charlie’s firm, from 2005 to 2011.

“I did know that they gave her the opportunity to kinda do the same thing,” said Bighill, “building her career while she’s competing, which speaks a lot to the kind of group that they have at Wellington and the kind of people that they believe in.”

Bighill was already sold on the city of Winnipeg – “everyone cares about each other here,” he said, “every day that we were here just seemed to get better and better for us” – and sold on the Bombers’ organization too.

Those parts of the equation were never in doubt when it came to thoughts of his next contract, but he was doing homework on what his life would be like once he’d played his final game. Planning ahead, the 30-year-old native of Montesano, Washington was looking for the opportunity to put his college education to work.

In November, as the playoffs were dawning, he successfully completed the Canadian securities course he was taking and became certified to sell financial industry products and services. He set up meetings, he said, in both Winnipeg and Vancouver, fact-finding with various brokerages as he gleaned information on how they did business and how flexible they might be.

“Adam is a smart guy,” said Dayna Spiring, the President & CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg, who’d spent three years as Vice-Chair for the Blue Bombers before taking over as Chair earlier this month.

“He’s been, obviously, a huge asset for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers,” she continued. “Someone that we were very anxious to have back on the team.
But he is looking at life after football and looking at what opportunities he may have in front of him. My husband happens to have a great brokerage firm and he’s one of the best in the business and would be a great teacher.”

Around the time of the Grey Cup, Spiring connected Bighill with her husband, and it became evident pretty quickly that there could be a fit, along the lines of the way Jones had been employed.

“We could see there was a good gel,” said Charlie Spiring. “He said ‘geez, I can go build and work hard in the community, and here’s a firm that’ll give me the flexibility to chase my main dream of winning the Grey Cup for the Bombers.'”

With everything falling into place on that front, and with Bighill desiring a new contract before free agency hit, Bombers’ President & CEO Wade Miller and General Manager Kyle Walters went to work on keeping Bighill in blue and gold.

Jennifer Jones balanced work with her curling career (Andrew Klaver/Curling Canada)

Jones, who’s won six Canadian championships (she’ll defend her title once again at next month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sydney, Nova Scotia), believes that Bighill couldn’t have come up with better people to partner with when it comes to honing transitional career skills, while continuing to do what he currently does best; make tackles.

“They’re a huge reason why I was able to continue to play and also have a career at the same time and chase my dreams and eventually win the Olympics,” said Jones of Charlie Spiring and the rest of the team at Wellington-Altus. “I know Adam’s gonna just love being there and being able to build a career for when he’s done football.”

“They’re all about believing in people that are dreaming and chasing their dreams,” Jones said. “I’ll never forget when Charlie asked me if I wanted to join the team at Wellington and he would support my curling dream and also my career dream. He allowed me to do both and there’s not very many people, I don’t think, in this world that would do that to the extent Charlie does.”

For Charlie Spiring, bringing Bighill aboard wasn’t entirely about ensuring that a standout middle linebacker in his prime would remain with the blue and gold, though as a big Blue Bombers’ fan, he saw with his own eyes what Bighill brought to his favourite team. “It was really important to have him stay in Winnipeg,” he said.

But, there are benefits for his firm and he wouldn’t mind reaping those, the way he did with Jones.

“Jennifer worked out fantastic for us,” he said. “We got all kinds of wonderful P.R. and moved the firm along. But it also allowed Jen to go on and win a gold medal at the Olympics.”

“We’re in the business of competing and she was inspirational in so many ways. And I see the same playbook, right now, with Adam.”

And Spiring will make his new office linebacker work, though he does want to ensure that Bighill concentrates on football during the season.

Bighill, after all, has been known to do just about everything he undertakes with the same vigour with which he approaches stopping opposition offences; which is to say, with an all-in mentality.

“He can do a little bit of work,” Spiring allows, tentatively. “But I really want him to concentrate on the Bombers during the season. He’s got a job to do there. But knowing Adam’s personality and his work ethic, he’ll be sticking his nose in on off days, popping in.”

Bighill, himself, sees no trouble in striking a balance. Absolutely, the football comes first as there’s a big, shiny trophy that he’d like to help bring back to Winnipeg. However, the schedule of a football player will allow for him to stick his toe in the corporate water now and again.

“I can take, easily, a couple of meetings a week, no problem, during the season,” he said. “And I’m always up in the morning studying the markets anyway, staying informed and looking after some of my own accounts. That’s just naturally there for me anyway, already.”

“Since becoming a father and a husband I’ve learned so much more how to balance my life and my time,” he added.

Adam Bighill signed a three-year extension with the Bombers earlier this month (Dave Chidley/CFL.ca)

Besides that, Bighill has landed at a company that has already famously afforded one Manitoba champ the flexibility to pursue greatness in a game she loves, while still performing as a valuable member of the financial team. He’ll get the same support.

“I think it’s part of the Winnipeg mentality,” said Dayna Spiring. “We believe that we’re a team and that we’re on the same page and we’re trying to work together. When you see a young person who wants to go chase their dream, they shouldn’t have to do that at the expense of everything else.”

“Right now, Adam’s goal is to win a Grey Cup,” she continued. “And, frankly, that’s my hope for him as well. That’s our first priority. But I think it’s only right that we start thinking about what happens next. In Winnipeg, we all work together.”

Bighill couldn’t be much happier, it seems, his football present secured, his post-career possibilities mapped out.

“We’re really looking forward to our opportunity here in the future, with football and outside of football as well,” he said. “Being involved with such a great organization here with the Bombers and then, obviously, with Wellington, I feel like I’m in great hands, on some very, very strong teams.”

Maybe he could add another, now that he’s got a close connection to an Olympic gold medalist. Mixed curling, anyone?

“I’ve never been curling,” Bighill said. “So I’d definitely take her up on that, ‘cause I really wanna try it.”