Darnell Girard splits his time between football and track and field, describing them as “two completely different beasts in the athletic world.” He admits that, while the two sports “even out a little,” the combination can make for an ambitious undertaking. “I work three part-time jobs outside of class too, so that’s when it gets tough to manage things,” says Girard.
This was Girard’s first year back to football after a two year hiatus. “The team didn’t do quite as well as we hoped this season either, but we’re looking to improve on that next season,” he says, adding that the team has “high hopes.” In track, Girard placed tenth at CIS in shot put.
Girard’s current schedule is the product of a lifelong passion for sports. “It became a part of my life at a young age,” he says. His years of involvement have led to the cultivation of a pregame ritual that Girard characterizes as a “day of focus and concentration.”
“The same way I’d prepare for [a] test is how I’d prepare for a football game, but this is more watching film of the other team and how they run their plays,” he describes. Girard devotes five hours a day, six days a week to practice — two-and-a-half spent studying other teams and the rest spent on the field.
Despite the drain of this level of investment, Girard’s commitment is unwavering. “Nothing compares to the feeling when you’re on a football field and there’s a man coming at you and it’s just you against him and you just see whose will is stronger,” he says.
Going into his last year with the Blues, Girard has some final goals to accomplish. “I have the school record for weight throw,” he says. “I’d like to expand on that right now — that’d be really cool,” he adds. However, passion for sport is the real driving factor for Girard. “It’s just really about playing,” he says, adding, “I love the sports… so it’s really one last hoorah for me.”
For volleyball player Angie Bellehumeur, sport extends far beyond the court, pool, or track. As co-chair of the Athlete Ally program, she has dedicated herself to making Varsity Blues athletics an inclusive space. “ I think it’s really important that everyone kind of steps up to the plate and calls themselves an ally,” she says. “I don’t want people to think of it as just a sticker on their water bottle,” she adds, explaining “there’s a pledge, and by signing that it’s a true commitment.”
Bellehumeur admits that creating this space is something of a challenge. “I think it’s something people are intimidated to talk about, especially in sports where gender roles are really enforced,” she explains. Her optimism and commitment to the cause is, however, unyielding. “As the years go on I think we’re going to get people to come together… [to] achieve this sense of an inclusive community.”
Bellehumeur’s accomplishments on the court have been equally impressive. The women’s volleyball team won the OUA championship this year. “That was a huge accomplishment for us, having had three bronze medals in previous years,” Bellehumeur explains. The team was 18-1 in the regular season.
The commitment to the sport has been demanding, but Bellehumeur describes it as “rewarding” and “competitive.” “We practice every day, and when we’re not practicing we’re at games.” She pauses to do the math on the hours she and the team commit each week. Giving up, she laughs, “It’s basically like having a full-time job in addition to university.”
Bellehumeur sees volleyball as being part of her future, though likely in a coaching or recreational capacity. “I love the sport and I love the lessons you can learn through volleyball and through sport in general,” she says.
For Devin Johnson, basketball has been a life-long passion. “I started in grade four and kept with it ever since,” he explains. His dad was a big part of that decision, enrolling his son in the sport from a young age — now, Johnson has completed his third year playing for the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team, making all-star status this season.
“At the start of the year we started real slow,” Johnson says, reflecting on the team’s year. “We were able to pick it up closer to the end of the year,” he adds. He’s optimistic that the team will continue to grow and improve into next year. “We’re a really young team, so next year will hopefully be a lot better,” he explains.
Like many Varsity athletes, Johnson’s commitment doesn’t end with the season. During the upcoming off-season he will continue to practice, having workouts and scrimmaging with his teammates. The team is close. “We’re really tight,” Johnson explains, adding, “It’s like family.”
Having a strong team bond is key to success for Johnson, however, he has a pre-game ritual — just in case. “Pregame I’ll go to McDonald’s and get 10 nuggets… and I’ll get a Tim Horton’s iced tea and drink half while coach is talking [before the game] and the other half during halftime,” he says, laughing. “It works.”
For Varsity Blues swimmer Vanessa Treasure, the end of this year is also the end of an era. Swimming at a competitive level since she was seven years old, the graduating athlete has decided that it’s time to move on. “I’m done [with] swim, I think, though it’s only been four weeks since I said I was done,” she laughs.
Treasure is ending her five years with the Blues on a triumphant note. The women’s swim team was the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) champion this year, and placed third at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) level. “We met our goals,” says Treasure. “Individually I was able to win a gold medal at OUA which made me a grand slam — [meaning] I had won that medal four years in a row,” she explains.
After a career of accomplishments, Treasure is ready to try something new. “I’m trying to explore other things, I’ve never done anything but swim,” she says. Treasure does reflect on her time in the sport, and particularly her time swimming for U of T, fondly. “It’s been awesome, and I can genuinely say that everyone has been really nice to me,” she says. Treasure adds that being involved in a team has had a huge role in combatting the isolation that can come with being at such a large university.
In her time swimming, Treasure has had the opportunity to travel extensively and build close bonds with her fellow athletes. “I had a blast swimming at U of T, it’s an incredible program. It’s one of the best things that has happened in my life, if not the best,” she says. As for the future, “I’m doing ballet now… although not very well,” she laughs.
“As long as I am swimming for me I am going to keep at it,” says Varsity Blues swimmer David Riley. After an impressive season for the men’s team, it’s not hard to imagine why. The team won the OUA championship and placed second at the CIS championship. “We lost some key teammates to health issues… and it took us a couple months to find our footing,” Riley says.
For Riley, his personal season was highlighted by a third place finish at the CIS championship. “It was a turbulent year for me and the first time I’ve ever thought of what happens after swimming and university,” Riley says. “I am proud of the way my university season ended and am looking towards the 2015 Canadian Swim Trials.”
Looking towards his future, Riley reflects on the commitment demanded by Varsity sports. “It’s incredibly difficult to balance your team with your academics and your social life,” he says, noting the time spent on training and competition. “It’s hard to reach Maddy Thursdays with a strict training schedule,” he adds. Despite the exhausting balancing act, the commitment is well worth it — according to Riley, “just being able to commit myself to my sport is rewarding enough.”
“It’s been part of my life for so long now that it really is a huge part of who I am,” says Katey Teekasingh, when asked about living an athletic lifestyle. The goalie for the women’s hockey team also says the team’s season “had a lot of positives.”
“We went through a period where a lot of our games went into a shootout and for most of those games we came out on top, which shows our ability to stay strong, united, and mentally tough,” Teekasingh says. Although the team did not qualify for nationals this year, Teekasingh feels that the team is now one step closer to achieving that goal next season. “We have so much potential on this team,” she adds.
Teekasingh has a careful pregame ritual. “I always have to re-tape my stick,” she says. “For me it’s like a clean slate.” She also uses specific songs to visualize the game and get mentally prepared.
As for the downfalls of Varsity sports, Teekasingh can only think of one. “[I’m] more injury prone than I ever have been… and there’s never a good time to be injured.”
It’s a risk she and all Varsity athletes take. “The stress we put our bodies through is so worth it… you’re playing a sport that you absolutely love,” she adds.
Being part of a team has been hugely rewarding for Teekasingh. “We’re all here because we’ve fallen in love with a sport and we’ve all worked hard for most of our lives to be where we are today,” she says. “To be part of that is one of the most amazing feelings.”