Rebecca Bourgeois looks to play the puck to a teammate. MARTIN BAZYL/COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES

Fifth-year Varsity Blues women’s hockey captain Rebecca Bourgeois recently completed her last season and played her final game in a blue and white jersey. As a Blues field hockey player, I was interested in learning her perspective on the student-athlete experience, being a role model, and moving on from her varsity team.

Bourgeois started this season knowing it would be her last. Five years felt like both a long and a short time for her. “I came in knowing I was going to do five years,” she said. “I don’t look back at being a rookie and think [that was] yesterday because that was a long time ago, but I’ll think back to instances like my first goal, or like a time in playoffs, or something that we did I’ll be like, ‘Oh wow, that was three years ago.’”

Over her five-year career, Bourgeois saw many of her close friends and teammates graduate, experiences she said helped her prepare for her final season. She remembered playing in her first grad game and the motivation she felt to play hard for her veteran teammates. “You see the emotions of them through those experiences, so it does prepare you, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less nostalgic or bittersweet when it does come.”

Though she knew her varsity career would end this winter, “it’s still a shock, and it’s still sad.”

Playing Varsity Blues hockey was about more than just athletics and academics. Especially in her upper years, she realized her position as a role model for her teammates and also for the community. She looked up to varsity players while growing up in Ottawa. “I remember going to university games… and being like, ‘Wow, these are pretty much professional athletes’ and getting signatures — and now kids come and we sign papers for them. It’s cool to have that platform to be able to do meaningful things.”

This year, Bourgeois and her teammates cooked a meal for Ronald McDonald House. Through this experience, she saw the impact her team could have on the community. “It was nice that we had a group… We had the resources of twenty-five people and our coaching staff and Varsity Blues program.”

As one of the captains of the field hockey team, I was curious about what Bourgeois thought of her position as captain on the ice and how her leadership role impacted her. She explained that as one of two graduating players, she felt she was in a leadership role anyway since she’d “been around the block a few times.”

For Bourgeois, being captain allowed her to “take on a larger role and responsibility.” She noted that at first it was a bit difficult to strike a manageable balance, “making sure you still take care of yourself while you’re trying to take care of other things, facilitate other people, and other plans.” The opportunity helped her get closer to her teammates, coaches, and support staff while learning about all the work that goes into a successful team.

Over time, Bourgeois became more comfortable wearing the ‘C.’ She added that it’s the thing her parents are most proud of and joked that her dad always tells people, “My daughter is captain of the U of T hockey team.” Even though she appreciates the honour of her title, she said she wouldn’t have done anything differently. “Letter or not, captain or not, I think I would have done the exact same things and still have been just as involved with the team.”

Since I still have two seasons left to play, I asked Bourgeois if she had any advice on making the most of my final seasons with the Blues. She told me never to wish anything away, especially the hard times, “because at the end of the day you would give anything to get back to that.” She explained that sometimes, especially during difficult moments like midterms or fitness testing, it’s easy to just try to get through it. “Appreciate even the things that are tougher to appreciate. Take it all in and soak in as much as you can from the experience and be ready to transition out of it at the end.”

Looking ahead, she’s excited to take her next step. She explained that though she doesn’t like to plan things too heavily, she will be continuing her studies in archaeology at graduate school. She’s “excited to have the time to figure out exactly what [she’s] going to do with [her] life.” Though hockey won’t be the focal point of her week anymore, she will continue to play recreationally.

Bourgeois plans to stay involved with her team even after she graduates, keeping in touch with her teammates, watching games, and visiting on alumni nights. “I know the support I felt from our alumni that I played with. They all came back for my last game and it was really special — I hope I can do that for my teammates in the future.” When asked about a hope she has for her team, she explained that though winning championships would be great, those are superficial wants. Overall, what she really wants for her team is “to be able to live the experience that they want while they’re here.”

On our team, we always say, “You want to leave the team in a better spot than you found it.” Though her team doesn’t express it the same way we do, the desire to make a positive impact was always on her mind. “If you’re there and you’re committed, then you want to make an impact. I think that was my aim and I hope I accomplished it,” she said.

Overall, Bourgeois’ varsity hockey career has been extremely important to her. She achieved her lifelong dream of playing intercollegiate hockey while also discovering all the other things she wants to do. She’s also met “some of [her] best lifelong friends” in what she calls “the most pivotal chunk of [her] life.”

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