VICTORIA -- Rita had been searching for one of those inflatable dinosaur costumes online when she discovered something even better.

“I had to have the unicorn,” she smiles. “It’s pink and purple and it’s adorable.”

Rita thought it might be fun to wear at a party, but by the time it arrived, the COVID-19 pandemic had too.

“I call it the ‘corona-coaster,’” she says. “Because it really is a lot of ups and downs!”

There are the slight dips down – caused by not being able to make the unicorn work because panic buying had caused stores to run out of batteries – and there are the deeper downs, caused by pysical-distancing.

“I’m an extrovert, so I need to be around people,” Rita explains. “I’m also a hugger.”

By “hugger”, Rita is not just referring to her face mask that says, “I can’t wait to hug you,” or how she communicates through hugs like others use “exclamations points at the end of a sentence.”

A few years ago, Rita earned international attention for her Year of Hugging Fearlessly project, when she visited five countries over 365 days, embracing 1,500 people. Throughout the year, Rita encouraged strangers to stop looking at their screens and start connecting in person.

She also realized that — no matter how different our age and background — we have a common yearning to be seen for who we really are.

“So you’re not out there like an island floating around,” she explains, before fighting back tears. “That’s how I feel sometimes.”

Especially when — because your family is living away, and your colleagues are working from home — you find yourself isolating for months in a bubble of one.

“When you’re single and living alone there are moments of loneliness,” she says. “[The pandemic] is like a whole other level.”

But Rita says if there’s a will, there’s a way. So, after so many months of too-lonely moments, Rita came up with a one-of-a-kind plan.

While a friend was visiting from a distance, Rita surprised her by donning that inflatable unicorn costume and approaching her with arms stretched wide.

“She could hear me coming! It’s a lot of plastic,” Rita recalls with a laugh, showing me a video of the hug. “When she hugged me, it squeezed the plastic and mushed my face.”

“It was awesome!” Rita beams.

So awesome that Rita decided she could safely travel to see her family for the first time in months. She shows me pictures of her embracing them all — from the young to the elderly — dressed like a unicorn.

Although the images may look silly or surreal at first, the faces of the people being hugged show genuine delight, deep satisfaction and overwhelming love.

“I am just much happier when I’m thinking of other people and the difference I can make for other people,” Rita says. “Even if that means putting on a silly unicorn outfit and hugging other people.”

Proving that vanquishing adversity is not limited to magical creatures; the power to wield positivity is in all of us.