By Jill Girgulis, September 21 2017 —
I entered university after five years of playing as many school sports as possible. I’ve always been athletic and I love school spirit, so I naturally pursued sports in my undergrad. The guaranteed jump in intensity, both in terms of academics and athletics, meant that I couldn’t play on multiple teams like before, but I wanted to try out for at least one sport. But how would I choose?
My decision was made when I was approached by a Dinos recruiter in high school. The Dinos needed new players and wondered if I was interested. The offer was too much of a coincidence to ignore. I said yes and my journey began.
Training began that summer and I quickly dove into pre-season practices and team-bonding activities. By the first day of class, I already felt like I was part of a community, which eased the transition from high school to university.
But something within me shifted once classes were in session. The Dinos glow faded. The situation was different. I was a student-athlete, not just an athlete, as I had been over the summer. The cracks in my student-athlete experience began to spread.
The signs of a deeper issue first arose at a team meeting early in the season. Our coach was discussing priorities and emphasized that while school was our number one — we were university students, after all — the team should be a close second. I remember immediately thinking there was no way the team would be a “close second” for me. School was obviously first, studying was second, friends and family were third, and maybe, just maybe, the team could be fourth.
I should have left then. It would have saved months of complications. I wasn’t prepared to commit on the level expected by a varsity team, but was too stubborn to acknowledge that. I didn’t want to admit that maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I misjudged my ability to manage it all and that I was more interested in the idea of being a Dino than the reality of it.
Eventually, I was asked to leave the team. I think I was more upset about failing to be authentic than about failing as a team member. I was ashamed of how I handled the situation, particularly because it was not reflective of the real me. The coaching staff and players were unfortunately exposed to my worst side and that’s all they ever saw. It was extremely difficult to face them afterwards.
Experiencing that caused me to temporarily separate myself from organized sports. I had played on one team or another every year since I was five, so I felt I needed to step back and ensure I wouldn’t repeat my mistakes with the next team I joined.
It was almost a full year before I put on another jersey.
I didn’t have a solid idea of what I wanted to carry into my university life from high school sports. All I knew was that I’d always been an athlete and I didn’t want that to change. I joined a varsity team because I thought that was the only way to be an athlete in university. However, joining intramurals with the Active Living Centre showed me that is not the case.
An intramural team in my faculty reintroduced me to team sports. With my failed varsity attempt still in mind, I was hesitant but felt it was a meaningful risk to take. Intramurals offer all the elements of high school athletics that I didn’t know I loved. I can still exercise my body and my competitive spirit in a low-stakes environment instead of with a spot in the playoffs on the line. I’m welcome to play when I’m available and no one expects me to cancel my commitments to be there every single time.
There are many ways to be a Dino. Playing on a competitive varsity team just wasn’t the best choice for me. As difficult as it was, I’m really glad I figured that out and found an athletic community on campus that still enriches me.