Letter to the Editor: March 16, 2015

The University of Toronto Graduate Students' Union urges administration to return to the bargaining table

The University of Toronto Administration has not returned to the bargaining table to negotiate with CUPE 3902 for just over two weeks. The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) expresses its disappointment with the university administration and stands in solidarity with CUPE 3902 in its efforts to negotiate fair contracts with the University of Toronto. The UTGSU represents over 16,000 graduate students in 85 departments at the University of Toronto, over 6,000 of whom are also CUPE 3902 Unit 1 members.

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Graduate students know that budgets are about priorities, and that these priorities are determined by those in positions of power. Seventy-three per cent of the university’s operating budget is allocated to administrative, faculty, and staff salaries, many of whom enjoy incomes in the six-figures. Sixty per cent of the teaching done at the University of Toronto is compensated with only 3.5 per cent of the operating budget. It is apparent that the top priorities for the university administration do not put students — graduate or undergraduate — first, nor do they reflect an institution that takes seriously its responsibility to protect its workers from job precarity or poverty.

Over the last decade, we have seen deepening commitments to a neoliberal provincial funding structure that positions post-secondary education less as a public good and more as a commodity. Our publicly-funded universities have been transformed into publicly-assisted institutions, a scheme that poses fundamental challenges to the quality and accessibility of higher education for students in Ontario. The UTGSU has repeatedly asked university administration to join graduate students in pressuring the province to provide a more equitable distribution of funding and resources. Repeatedly, the university administration has failed to stand behind us in these efforts, choosing instead to continue relying on tactics that individualize financial responsibility and deepen student debt. What we are seeing now during the CUPE 3902 strike is further evidence of the privatization and corporatization of the University of Toronto, at the expense of students and student workers.

Meaningful gains for CUPE 3902 members are long overdue, and once secured, will support a challenge to neoliberal trends in public education. The UTGSU commends the dedicated efforts of all those on strike, and remains strong in its resolution for the provision of a liveable funding package for all graduate students at the University of Toronto. It is time our institution makes real commitments to graduate student education, and prioritizes sustainable learning conditions for research, teaching, and overall scholarship.

We call on the university administration to return to the bargaining table, and to demonstrate their support for students in their teaching and research by offering fair funding to all graduate students.

— Nickie Van Lier: internal commissioner, University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU)

Letters to the editor should be directed to comment@thevarsity.ca. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

“You can probably find it here”

The influence of thrift and vintage stores on and off the rack

“You can probably find it here”

I step inside Courage My Love, a vintage shop in the heart of Kensington Market, and am struck by an arresting medley of colour, pattern, and texture.

Vintage cowboy boots and artfully worn denim are arranged around the doorstep. Wooden beads and crystals hang from the ceiling. Bowls of vintage jewelry are perched on the countertops, and racks of men’s suits and flannel shirts line the walls.

Cece Scriver, owner, has a good mantra to sum up the store’s collection: “If you can’t find something somewhere, you can probably find it here.”


This phrase rings true as I walk up and down the aisles of Courage My Love, which sells everything from belt buckles to antique lamps to pocket squares. The store is its own piece of art, taking objects and transforming them from used to vintage.

However, Scriver emphasizes that the store isn’t just about vintage. “We do seasonal stuff and we try to follow the trends,” she explains. “We get stuff that is in fashion or work with what we can get a lot of and turn it into fashion.”



The fusion between the old and the new becomes clear as I walk through the store. Rows of leather moccasins are tucked under shelves of silk scarves, while painted masks fill the gaps between the racks of clothing on the walls. Scriver points out a costume hat adorned with a sprig of cloth flowers, explaining that she sewed it herself.

The store’s mix of old and new pieces is emblematic of growing trends in the fashion industry. Trends have a tendency to lead a cyclical life, as marked by the return of high-waisted pants, grungy florals, and studded leather jackets.
However, unlike the efforts of the fashion world, which brings the old back in physically new pieces, the act of shopping vintage revives old items in a way that is amenable to high fashion and upcycling philosophies.

In 1980, Black Market Vintage opened on Queen Street West to provide a niche market catering to alternative clothing — one that, according to Tracey Opperman, didn’t really exist at the time. Opperman, along with John Christmann, the store founder, and Bernard Chung, are the co-owners of Black Market Vintage.

“I think there’s a segment of the population that will always want an alternative fashion to what is available in the standard retail environment,” Opperman explains. “…[We have] the ability to offer one-of-a-kind pieces that pre-date fast fashion.”

A stone’s throw from Osgoode subway station, the main Black Market store is actually located underground. After descending the narrow steps, I find myself in a vast, warehouse-style space. Racks of vintage band t-shirts, bomber jackets, and colourful sunglasses are everywhere. The atmosphere is reminiscent of the grungy, punk rock scene that dates back to the store’s inception. Best of all, everything is $10 or less.

Black Market also has a sister store in Parkdale. The Public Butter sells vintage clothing as well as furnishings, architectural salvage, used bicycles, and household goods.

The appeal of vintage fashion is twofold. Not only is it a unique way to make a statement, but many of the pieces sold in vintage shops are of exceptional quality, certainly compared to modern mass-produced goods. It’s up to shops like Black Market and Courage My Love to sift the treasure from the trash.

“A lot of vintage comes from an era of quality-made manufacturing that pre-dates fast-fashion,” Opperman emphasizes. “It just lasts longer, and [people are aware] that much of it would be landfill without the vintage and thrift stores of the world.”


The stories behind some of Toronto’s thrift stores are in many ways as unique as the wares they sell. Often, they also serve to build neighbourhood communities.

Courage My Love started out as a “junk store,” opened by Scriver’s parents in 1975. Travelling across Toronto, and later all of Canada, they collected antiques and unique pieces to revitalize and sell at the store. They bought old stock from general stores when Scriver was only three or four years old. She referred to this as “dumpster diving, but not really,” explaining that you never know what valuable things people are going to toss to the curb.



Forty years later, the store has expanded its niche, but it remains a family business. The sense of engagement in the store’s management is clear. The majority of Scriver’s family lives in Kensington Market and is involved in the community. Employee turnover is low, resulting in a strong relationship between store workers as well as their customers.

As I spoke with Scriver, several customers that she knew by name drifted in and out of the store, exchanging friendly remarks. One customer dropped by to ask about how her family was doing. “That’s my uncle,” she explained.

“We’ve watched people who have grown up,” Scriver says. “…We do know how much this street has done for us and the community… We take care of what we have and know how much it means.”


The language of thrifting tells a distinct story. “Vintage,” with its nod to eras past, implies unique and individual. It also doesn’t necessarily reflect low-cost. “Second-hand” or “used” can carry very different connotations. This language reflects a split in the existence of thrift stores which is very much reflective of the difference between the fashion-conscious “vintage” and the value-conscious “thrift.”

The impact of second-hand stores goes far beyond the physical goods you can purchase. They can also take the form of community-building efforts.

Double Take Thrift Store opened in 1999, and it quickly became a popular place in the neighbourhood to shop for inexpensive wares. The store is run through the Yonge Street Mission, an organization that provides services for the community, including food banks, daycare, and programs for street-involved youth.

“It was originally intended to help ease some of the difficulties people had financially and a way for donors to express giving,” says Kathy Webster, store manager. “It started as a one-room operation and became this store,” she adds.


The main goal of the store and the Yonge Street Mission is to be an active partner in helping to eliminate poverty in Toronto.

Webster explains the multiple levels on which the store works to achieve this goal. “We are still here for the community which is still one of the most impoverished in Canada,” Webster says. She adds that the efforts go beyond the goods sold. “…Residents of the community [are] employed and trained and the mission supports them in building resumes, eventually helping them on their way to a career,” she says.



Located on Gerrard Street just east of Parliament Street, Double Take is right on the edge of Regent Park, Canada’s largest social housing project. Since 2005, the neighbourhood has been working through revitalization, aiming to curb poverty and youth crime and diminish the effects of its negative reputation.

Roaming the aisles of the store, the history and enduring reputation of the area is inconsequential. Clothing is well organized by size and shape, and a wide variety of books and knick-knacks are displayed in the corner. The store windows showcase neatly dressed mannequins modeling the latest fashions. The latter is of penultimate importance to Double Take, particularly their aim to create a shopping experience resembling that of a “regular” department store.

“We’re very much about respect,” Webster explains. “…Our aim is that no matter how much someone has to spend, whether it’s a dollar or a hundred dollars, they don’t feel belittled or like second-class citizens,” she adds.

It’s often a challenge, according to Webster, particularly in light of strict budget constraints. Regardless, Double Take operates on a relationship of mutual respect between customers and the retailer. Indicative of this is their dedication to ensuring every article of clothing is steam-cleaned. Additionally, many of the community members at the Yonge Street Mission receive gift certificates to shop at the store.



“We have a great number of loyal customers,” explains Webster. “We have a lot of personal, individual relationships — we know many of our customers by name,” she adds.

In light of the store’s humanitarian aims, this is particularly important. In order to tackle multifaceted and complex problems like poverty and street involvement, Webster says, the Yonge Street Mission and Double Take seek to create a “ripple effect,” helping individuals who will themselves go on to change the community for the better.

“We don’t offer a hand out, we offer a hand up,” Webster adds. Creating agency for individuals is a core component of that mentality, Webster explains, saying, “We work together with people, rather than simply directing them.”


Over time, Toronto has evolved as a vibrant hub for culture and ideas. Thrift and vintage shopping is just another piece of the puzzle.

Some of this impact comes from the stores themselves. Scriver and her family have played a crucial part in shaping the Kensington Market neighbourhood into what it is today.

“What I’ve been told is that in the ’80s when we moved to Kensington Market… we were the first in the area and we shifted the whole market into what it is now,” Scriver explains, “where more fashionable people are coming in.”

Since Courage My Love opened, Kensington has become one of the prime spots in Toronto for vintage wares. Numerous stores have opened up in the neighbourhood, making it a shopping hotspot for tourists and locals alike.

“Toronto has a big vintage scene,” says Scriver. “People come from other countries to shop here for their stores,” she adds.

There is a growing presence of thrift stores in Toronto that cater to different demographics and needs.

“Toronto can be a very expensive city, especially for youth and students,” Opperman says. “[Black Market offers] an affordable option that’s unique and funky.”



Thrift and vintage has been steadily growing in popularity, with students increasingly becoming a core demographic. “Our love of pop culture has a direct correlation to how we pick and purchase merchandise for the store, so it speaks to many generations,” Opperman says. “We love to see what the students are wearing and hear what they’re looking for,” she adds.

The University of Toronto is not new to the thrift and vintage scene; in fact, many groups on campus have set up related events. For example, clothing swaps hosted by organizations like Caffiends and UFashion allow students to bring in their gently used items to trade with others.

Entrenching thrifting habits into younger generations could have a significant positive impact on larger social movements. Vintage shopping has been connected to environmentalism in an attempt to promote recycling and reduce waste.

“Many people say this generation, [they] only think about themselves, and I don’t believe that at all,” Webster emphasizes. “I see many young people with a high social conscience.”

Characteristic of many thrift stores is the sense of finding value in something that others cast away. Depending on the stores’ aims, this awareness can be manifested in their respect and understanding of generations past or their goals to build a sense of community. Making the choice to buy used is a support of these efforts, which, in many ways, extends beyond the desire for the material thing.

“I think there should be more thrift shops and more emphasis on this activity, and less emphasis on buying the newest, greatest thing,” Webster says. “There’s nothing wrong with buying new things, but perhaps less consumerism could be achieved through things like thrift stores.”

With pasts as diverse as the objects they display, Toronto thrift stores and the growing culture surrounding them bring something unique to the retail world. They bring new life to old possessions and an awareness of the value of saving rather than throwing away, creating a sense that the purchase you carry out the door is not something bought, but something borrowed.

In conversation with Molly Shoichet

U of T professor wins Women in Science Award

In recognition for her novel research, University of Toronto professor Dr. Molly Shoichet has been named the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women In Science North American laureate for 2015. Shoichet was one of five award recipients worldwide, representing North America, and received a prize of just under $140,000.

This award has been given out annually since 2008 to support top women scientists and recognize their significant scientific accomplishments. One of the goals of this program is to encourage young women to pursue careers in science and engineering.

Incredible biomedical research conducted at The Shoichet Lab has the potential to change the way diseases are treated. Professor Molly Shoichet guides a group of 25 researchers to make breakthrough advancements in medicine at the intersection of engineering, chemistry, and biology.

Molly Shoichet courtesy of Molly Shoichet


Shoichet’s work involves targeted delivery of stem cells to the spinal cord and the brain, using novel biodegradable hydrogel polymers. Polymers are long, chain-like structures made up of smaller, repeated molecules. The hydrogel polymers can be injected through a needle and then set almost immediately in the target area. This delivery system, invented in the lab, can be compared to a space suit that holds fragile stem cells inside a hydrogel. To enhance integration and promote survival of these stem cells, support cells are added into the hydrogel network. The next step is to refine the technique and then translate the science from the bench to the bedside by beginning clinical trials.

The Varsity spoke with Professor Molly Shoichet about the award, which she will be presented with during a ceremony in Paris on March 18.

The Varsity: What does it feel like to be part of the high recognition events for women in the science?

Molly Shoichet: This award recognizes excellence in science. It is a tremendous honour to have our science recognized. I feel privileged to work in Canada, at the University of Toronto, with great collaborators and exceptional students, post-doctoral fellows, technicians.

TV: What is the inspiration/motivation behind your work?

MS: We’re inspired to advance knowledge towards clinical application — to ultimately make a difference in people’s lives. We are tackling big questions in science and engineering and are motivated to make a difference.

TV: How will your research findings benefit patients and what is the next challenge that stands before implementation of these new methods in clinic?

MS: There are many stars that need to align in order for us to advance our research to the benefit of patients. We start with models, which advance our understanding and refine our science. We patent our inventions, providing opportunities for licensing or company formation. Ultimately, we need to partner with industry in order to advance beyond academic research toward product development and clinical trials.

TV: Where do you hope to take your research in the future?

MS: Our goal is to ultimately advance research to the clinic. We are pursuing several strategies ­— cell delivery to the back of the eye (the retina) to overcome blindness, cell and biomolecule delivery to the brain to overcome stroke, cell and biomolecule delivery to the spinal cord to overcome spinal cord injury, [and] drug delivery and drug screening applied to cancer. Through active collaboration, we are confident that we can make a difference.

TV: What piece of advice do you have for women thinking of pursuing a career in science?

MS: It’s a fantastic career. It allows you to be imaginative, creative and innovative. You have the opportunity to invent the future. Moreover, you can have a career and a family — they are not mutually exclusive. I have both and so can you. Make sure to choose a partner who values your career as much as you do.

TV: How do you manage to achieve a good balance between your personal and professional lives?

MS: I have a lot of help — I don’t do anything alone. Professionally, I work with leading international scientists and clinicians and have an amazing research group of creative and independent thinkers. I work with a great admin[istrative] staff as well, which enables me to tackle new projects. Personally, I have a great husband and additional support from my mom. I spend many hours working… but I also find time to spend with my sons and husband. There’s never a dull moment and very little down time, but I thrive on being busy. I also eat a lot of chocolate — [that’s the] secret to my success.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Use your phone to focus

Flipd is a new Android app with features to lock mobile devices and more

Use your phone to focus

In the current age of technological advances, it’s hard to avoid getting distracted by the countless notifications and messages that we receive on our mobile devices.

As part of a Toronto-based startup, third-year U of T computer science student Andres Moreno has come up with a solution to help control the excessive use of our mobile devices. Moreno is the lead developer of a new mobile application called Flipd, which advocates “freedom from mobile distractions.”

Moreno, like us all, has noticed the very visible phenomenon of people being glued to their phones. “I think that everyone would be much more productive if they could put it down and focus on their work or go out and have some fun,” he says.

In essence, Flipd allows users to lock their devices so that they are unable to access them in order to avoid distractions.

Many apps for this purpose are currently available on the market; Flipd, however, comes equipped with many additional convenient features, taking the prevention of excessive device use to a new level. Users can choose to completely lock their mobile devices or tablets for up to 12 hours. With a feature called “smart lock screen,” users can still make emergency phone calls, receive notifications, and enable auto response text messages so that they won’t be completely disconnected from the social world. Further, Flipd can be used in groups — a person can limit another person’s mobile device usage in a non-invasive way.

Moreno is more interested in seeing a behavioural change in users than in just providing a lock screen.

“For example the app provides 60-second breaks while you’re locked in case you need to use [your phone],” he says, adding, “There’s also an auto response feature that provides a personalized response so that you don’t get the feeling that you need to respond right away.”

After taking courses on mobile application development and network communication, Moreno became interested in both areas and learned more about them on his own time. “[W]hen the idea for this app came along it was a great opportunity to put them in practice and learn more,” he says.

The Android version of the app has been in beta since December and was launched in late February. Moreno is currently working on an iOS version of the app with his team, which they are planning to launch in the summer. “Following that, we have ideas to expand our market and release a version geared towards businesses or schools,” says Moreno.

The app is already gaining momentum, with over 1,000 downloads. “It feels great knowing you’re creating an app that people from several different countries are using right now,” Moreno says.

Teamwork is key for Moreno, and he would recommend that to all new developers as well. “I would advise them to be part of a team when creating the app,” he says, adding, “You get a lot more ideas and different viewpoints that will make your app much better.”

Bubbling up

Study: researchers brew magma in U of T basement to uncover new mechanism for volcanic sulphur transport

Bubbling up

In 1991, the world witnessed the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, a volcano in the Phillippines that spewed out so much sulphur into the atmosphere that the global temperature dropped by one degree for an entire year. For two decades, scientists wondered how Mount Pinatubo and other volcanoes like it could produce such a tremendous amount of sulphur, as it was believed to be physically impossible that one single magma source could send that much of the substance to the surface. Now, U of T professors James Mungall and James Brenan, along with their French and Australian colleagues, have finally found the solution to the puzzle.

Published in Nature Geoscience at the end of last month, the research describes a newly-discovered mechanism for transporting sulphur and other elements, including copper, nickel, and precious minerals, by means of vapour bubbles.

“When a magma contains a lot of sulphur — one thing that can happen is that it can actually produce a sulphur-bearing separate phase,” explains Brenan, who is part of the Department of Earth Sciences, “and it’s much like if you have oil and vinegar in a salad dressing, the two don’t actually homogenize. They can remain in separate phases, [and] you have to shake it up a lot for it to be homogeneous.”

“The same thing happens in magmas,” he continues, “if they have too much sulphur they actually produce blobs of iron sulphide magma.”

By conventional wisdom, these blobs of iron sulphide, which as the name suggests are highly rich in iron, would be far too heavy to reach the surface. It was thought that this dense and heavy magma would sink deeper into the Earth and settle too far from the surface to become available to erupt into the atmosphere. However, as the new research shows, the iron sulphide “blobs” will instead actually attach themselves to vapour bubbles, and then hitch a ride to the surface.

Despite being chock-full of iron, this bubbly-buddy system still works for two reasons. First, the force that keeps the iron sulphide attached to the vapour bubbles which physicists call “surface tension,” is, in this case, stronger than the gravity trying to pull them back down. Secondly, the buddy-bubble is usually composed of water and carbon dioxide vapour, which is less dense than the rest of the magma, so it actually serves as an efficient transport mechanism to carry the sulphide up to the part of the system that’s erupting.

The research was conducted using experiments performed below the surface of the U of T campus. “We have a lab down in the basement where we do experiments,” says Brenan from his office in the Earth Sciences Centre, indicating downwards, “We have furnaces that go to temperatures at which magmas would format. We create the conditions in the laboratory — so these are big furnaces, and they get hot enough to melt rock.”

What the observations showed was that so long as there was a gas present in Brenan’s home-brewed magma, the iron sulphide blobs, against all intuition, would want to attach themselves to the vapour bubbles every time.

As well as contributing to our knowledge of how sulphur from volcanic emissions can affect climate, the vapour-carrier mechanism is thought to be responsible for depositing copper, nickel, and precious metals, such as gold, near the surface in areas where there is lots of volcanic activity.

Correction (March 18, 2015, 3:30 pm): A previous version of this article indicated that professor James Brenan was a part of the Department of Geophysics. In fact, he is from that of Earth Sciences. The Varsity regrets the error.

Hope for treating multiple sclerosis

Breaking up two proteins may contain the answer

Hope for treating multiple sclerosis

Scientists may have found a promising lead to follow for treating multiple sclerosis (MS) — the most widespread neurological disorder disabling young adults between the ages of 20 and 40.

Individuals with MS can suffer from almost any nervous system-related functional decline with varying intensities. Defects in vision, sensation, balance, and coordination are the most common symptoms.

Recent evidence suggests that, in the case of MS, glutamate — a brain chemical that relays signals between nerve cells — excessively stimulates nerve cells, causing them to be damaged or, at times, killed. Glutamate mediates its effects on nerve cells by binding to and activating an AMPA receptor, which is a protein located on the surface of nerve cells.

Dr. Fang Liu and her team from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto were looking for a plan of attack to block specific AMPA receptors that get excessively activated by glutamate. “This is an important distinction from normal AMPA receptors that otherwise play a critical role in learning and memory,” explains Dr. Dongxu Zhai­­, the lead researcher of the project.

Published in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology early this year, the team detailed how it tracked down those specific AMPA receptors, suggesting a novel therapeutic target for the development of MS medications.

The researchers referred to one of their previous studies showing how excessively activated AMPA receptors by glutamate can initiate cell death through a protein-protein two-some between a part of AMPA receptor and another enzyme, which is also a protein.

In the current study, they showed that the same complex was present at significantly higher levels in dead tissue from MS patients and mice that mimic MS symptoms.

The team then wondered whether breaking up this protein-pair would reduce nerve cell death in the sick mice. To this end, Zhai designed a peptide — a small chemical chain — for subsequent treatment.

The sick mice treated with the peptide showed regrowth of nerve cells, increased survival of parent cells from which the insulating coat around the nerve cells grow, and the rescue of thinning of the very same coat.

Commenting on the putative drug-like features of the peptide, Zhai adds, “Based on our current experiment, the treatment of this peptide had very minimum side effects and that is very encouraging.” The team did not detect any direct effect of the peptide on the immune system of the mice model.

“Hopefully we can develop a drug based on this peptide. Some challenges, however, exist ­— one of which is we now need to determine the best route of administration since that can greatly affect the efficacy of the drug,” Zhai remarks.

Too much added sugar in children’s menus

Canadian sugar levels exceed WHO guidelines

Too much added sugar in children’s menus

A recent study conducted by researchers at the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto found that, of 3,178 meals sourced from 10 fast-food and seven sit-down restaurants, 50 per cent are found to exceed the WHO’s proposed daily recommendation for sugar intake.

The WHO recommends that added sugar not make up more than five per cent of daily dietary consumption — a 50 per cent drop from the older guideline published in the early 2000s, which recommended that it make up less than 10 per cent.

Mary Scourboutakos, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student at the Department of Nutritional Sciences, says that consuming high amounts of sugar can lead to long-term potential harm, such as causing obesity and tooth decay.

Scourboutakos’s research focuses on added sugar, otherwise known as free sugar, which is “table sugar added to foods and drinks by the cook or consumer and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.” The research is important as there is an ongoing obesity epidemic in Canada: one in four children and youth in Canada is found to be overweight or obese.

Obese children are much more likely to experience health conditions, such as Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure, which were previously seen only among adults.

Restaurants offer a mix of unhealthy and healthy options on their menus, varying in the amount of sugar, but it remains unknown to researchers whether or not children choose the healthy options over the unhealthy ones. In their research, they recommend incentivising children to select the healthy options, such as negative incentive of refraining from selling toys with meals that do not meet nutritional criteria.

However, as profit-driven organizations, restaurants are likely to continue the unhealthy options due to continual demand and preferences of consumers. Until we, as consumers, make a clear decision to not have these options made available to us, our children may continue to fall into the temptation of soda and deep-fried food.

In addition, Scourboutakos warns against consuming food that claims to be sugar-free, such as sugar-free cola, because “artificial sweeteners make you crave for more sugar.” Thus, parents and children would be better off consuming naturally flavoured food.

When asked about the current state of school meals, Scourboutakos says, “While recently, it is included in the provincial legislation to ensure the [nutritional] quality of meals in school canteens, we know little in whether it is actually being implemented.” She added that there has been much wider discussion and active implementation of new measures in the United States, though some new ones have yet to be successful.

Third time’s the charm

Blues runner Gabriela Stafford recounts her experience at this past weekend’s CIS track and field championship win

Third time’s the charm

It will be difficult to try to represent all of the heart and passion that I have experienced as a part of this team with words on a piece of paper, but I will do my best.

Every journey has a starting point, and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where ours began. At the very least, this Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) championship title was three years in the making, so I suppose our journey began in 2013 when we lost the overall title by a mere two points.

In 2014, we experienced a similar heartbreak when, despite the amazing breakout performances and beating our ranking, the banner was two points out of reach again. I remember as a rookie last year agonizing over those two measly points.

There was no agonizing over points this year, and there was no leaving it to chance. There was a lot of heart, a lot of guts, and relentless self-belief — and we finally walked away with our CIS banner. At the end of the three days, our individual performances culminated into a whopping total of 131.50 points, ahead of Trinity Western University in second with 79 points.

Women’s track and field team poses with CIS championship banner. MARTYN BAZYL/VARSITY BLUES

Women’s track and field team poses with CIS championship banner. MARTYN BAZYL/VARSITY BLUES

The moment when we finally got to hold this coveted banner — when this banner became our banner — at the awards presentation, my breath was taken away. Winning the team title meant so much to us. No team was more deserving than this group of ladies.

We were there on a mission and we were confident that we would achieve it, but not one of us takes this victory for granted. After the past two years, we know more than anyone that just because something can happen doesn’t mean that it will happen. But these ladies never stopped believing in themselves, and our coaches never stopped believing in us either.

My favourite race memory from the weekend was the 4×800-metre relay. We had a dominant team lined up and we had just broken the Canadian record at the Ontario University Athletics championship, but we knew that we would have a great battle with the University of Victoria.

Rachel Jewett did an amazing job leading us off, Honor Walmsley continued to stretch our lead, and Sasha Gollish — the CIS Athlete of the Year — dropped the hammer to give me a very comfortable lead.

As the anchor, I had to run away from one of the best 800-metre runners in Canada, Rachel François, and I knew the race wasn’t won until I crossed the line. When I grabbed that baton, I ran for my life. I would not settle, and I refused to be caught.

Running scared clearly worked, because we ran a new national and CIS record of 8:32.36, shattering the previous record by 10 seconds. Nothing can compare to anchoring with the fastest 800-metre of my life, and then running into the arms of my fellow record-breakers who held me when my legs gave out.

Behind every great team is an even greater support group, and we are blessed with the best in the country. We were all so proud when our head coach Carl Georgevski was awarded with the CIS Coach of the Year.

Georgevski, along with the rest of our coaches, has taught us never to dismiss heady goals out of hand. Instead, we’ve learned to ask, “How? Where? When?” — they have taught us that we are limitless.

Looking ahead, I am confident that we will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. We have many athletes graduating from our program this year, and they leave us with big shoes to fill, but I believe that we are up for the challenge. One thing is certain: as long as we have a team with this much heart, we will never be defeated.