From SoCal to Toronto: Navigating the wonderful world of winter activities

How ice skating and ice hockey helped me become the happiest version of myself

From SoCal to Toronto: Navigating the wonderful world of winter activities

People who live within reach of ice often find themselves at odds with its creeping, heat-sapping fingers. Ice isn’t the most hospitable. Or the most helpful. Or even preventable. In truth, ice is quite a nuisance.

I suppose you could say people have a complex relationship with ice. I, for one, certainly did.

Growing up in Southern California, ice activities were a kitschy luxury — something you did when you wanted to avoid the pretense of enjoying the beach. Figure skaters were folk tales, and hockey was just something Canadians did, maybe.

When I arrived at university in the heat of August, I had no idea of the icy wonderland Toronto would become. As it turned out, ice was waiting patiently for me on the periphery. With a dangerous combination of my friends, the True North Strong and Free, and some sheer dumb luck, ice moved from the sidelines to straight under my sweaty, nervous feet in skates.

One fateful week in late November, my friends, as good, Instagramming university students, formally requested we go to Nathan Phillips Square. Any normal Art History specialist might have jumped at the photo op, but me? I was scared stiff.

In the past, my wide feet and more mediocre friends had made me feel as though I could not be ‘good’ at ice skating. It’s difficult to ignore old insecurities, and my anxieties tripped into a conviction that I just couldn’t do it. I told myself that I was going to fail before I even tried, but both my friends and the ice were having none of that.

Even though I could barely balance without someone holding me up, my friends ever so gently took my fear in their hands, ripped it straight out of my chest, and made me skate over it, again and again. By the end, I couldn’t imagine not being on the ice. Frozen water had actually convinced me that I was good enough.

This was my first change to who I was in years.

From there, it all just snowballed perilously out of control. I saw my first Varsity Blues ice hockey game against the Queen’s Gaels — and got a puck, no less! — and fell in love instantly. The 2017–2018 school year then became both my first year in university and my first year as a hockey fan. Who knew sports could be fun?

Just like ice skating, I had always told myself sports weren’t my thing. I was never very athletic or physical. Soccer, volleyball, and — God forbid — baseball, never really did it for me. But when I watched my first ice hockey game?

Oh, man.

Remember the first time you listened to your favourite song? Or how it feels when you see someone you really love? Or when a movie makes you weep tears of joy? I felt like a little kid again. It had highs and lows, drama, fights, passion, and some sick jerseys. And plastic discs flying at the speed of cars in school zones!

And my new friend, ice.

Ice skating had instilled a sense of confidence in me that I didn’t know I could have, and ice hockey provided me with a community that I didn’t know I could belong to. In an odd way, ice allowed me to become my favourite version of myself.

Ice is that annoying little sibling that we wish to get away from but also can’t stand to leave entirely. Of course, it might cause you to slip in the middle of Queen’s Park right in front of a really cute guy, but it can also turn your lemonade into a delicacy and a boring winter’s day into a crystallized miracle.

So, if you’re in the area, take my advice and stop by some ice. Shoot the breeze! Live a little! Who knows, it might just change your life.

Take it from me, ice certainly isn’t all it seems to be.

Front Campus snowball fight sees limited participation due to bad weather

New organizers of snowball fight, Delta Upsilon, wanted to bring community together

Front Campus snowball fight sees limited participation due to bad weather

The tri-campus snowball fight returned after a year’s hiatus, as roughly 60 students made their way to Front Campus on January 10 to participate in the event. Organizers attributed the low turnout to bad weather and poor snowball-making conditions.

In 2015, the snowball fight was organized by Madina Siddiqui and Frishta Bastan, who said at the time that they hoped it would become an annual event. That year reportedly saw 400 students gather on Front Campus, with 2,600 saying they would attend on a Facebook event. The next year, 4,200 students said they were interested in or going on Facebook.

This year there were over 2,000 people in total who indicated their interest on Facebook; however, the turnout was not what was expected given the social media response.

“Given the freezing rain aspect, I’m gonna take what we have,” said Evan Price, President of Delta Upsilon, the fraternity that organized this year’s event. “It’s still fun any time you get this many people doing one thing at U of T. It’s always a good thing.”

While the snowball fight has never had an official affiliation with the university, UTSU President Mathias Memmel wrote to The Varsity, “In 2016 we provided paramedical support, hot chocolate, and music in the form of Disney’s ‘Frozen’ but none of these services were requested by the event hosts nor do they appear on our website.”

Price said that he and the other members of Delta Upsilon had been thinking of events to hold for the first week back at school. “We didn’t see anyone taking initiative on it, and we just thought we’d do it, bringing out some hot chocolate and trying to get some people together.”

SAD for the season

How Health & Wellness helped me cope with seasonal affective disorder

SAD for the season

Although this year’s winter has been unusually mild, it hasn’t disappointed when it comes to dreary mornings and very short days. With impending papers in November and exams in December, I began to feel as sluggish and uninspired as the view outside my window. At first, it was easy to dismiss my lack of motivation and productivity — after all, aren’t we a little prone to avoiding studying during finals season and taking extended naps whenever possible?

Soon enough, however, the problem became impossible to ignore. I found myself sleeping ten to twelve hours a day, and resorting to unhealthy eating habits to cope with the stress of classes and finals. Even more concerning was my lack of motivation for any activity at all, and my inability to concentrate on the tasks before me.

With a little research, I began to suspect that I was experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

As defined by the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), SAD is the most severe manifestation of the seasonal mood changes that affect many people in late autumn and winter, when the daylight hours get significantly shorter. 

While many of the given symptoms aligned with my experiences, doubts immediately occurred to me: was I overreacting? Many students often experience the “winter blues,” and my heavy course and workload was undoubtedly not helping the situation. When I began to fall behind on my schoolwork, however, I knew that it was time to look for some sort of help. 

Although the Health and Wellness Centre was located just a short walk from my house and was accepting appointments from all U of T students, I also knew that the mental health services on campus do not have a very good reputation. Nevertheless, my family doctor was dozens of miles away, and, with important deadlines approaching, I figured I would give campus services a try. 

At first, I was pleasantly surprised by my experience. The centre scheduled me for a next-day appointment, and the doctor listened attentively to my symptoms and concerns. 

Although he immediately gave me a range of recommendations, such as increasing my physical activity and shifting to a more protein and complex carbohydrate packed diet, insistent on fully establishing the cause of my sluggishness and depression. He recommended a vitamin D supplement, prescribed several blood tests and a follow-up appointment. 

Most importantly, the doctor expressed genuine concern about my health and well being. In fact, during my follow-up, the doctor continued to insist that, despite my improved condition, I continue to monitor the situation and return for a follow-up appointment wherever necessary.

My situation is just one of many, and does not negate the remaining problems of stigma and inadequate services that others continue to face. I want to highlight, however, that there are professionals on this campus who are caring and willing to help students struggling with mental health issues. It is unfortunate that the distribution of these professionals seems to be based on luck, and that is something the administration should strive to improve in the future.

In any case, however, I would encourage anyone struggling with feelings of depression, whether seasonal or otherwise, to seek help on campus. SAD is a legitimate illness and should be treated as such, no matter whether it feels like mere “winter blues.” 

Daryna Kutsyna is a third-year student at Trinity College studying international relations and history. She is the co-president of U of T’s Equal Voice Chapter; the views expressed here are her own.

Skule slams the slopes

U of T engineers compete in annual concrete toboggan competition

Skule slams the slopes

The University of Toronto Concrete Toboggan Team (UofTBog) is a Skule club that designs, builds, and races in the largest engineering competition in Canada. The goal is to create a fully functioning, five-passenger toboggan complete with mechanical braking and steering systems, that can maneuver and speed to the bottom of a mountain the fastest. The catch, however, is that the skis of the toboggan need to be composed entirely of concrete.

The 2016 team, composed of 30 engineering undergraduates, arrived back from the five-day competition in Ottawa on January 31. The competition was the culmination of 10 months of hard work that the team had devoted to developing their unique design. 

The competition, which was inaugurated in 1972, is known as the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race (GNCTR); it brings together over 21 teams from across Canada, and one from the US. Attracting over 500 students, all of whom gathered at  Edelweiss Valley in Wakefield, Quebec to put their sleds to the test.

U of T co-captains Matthew Frade, a fourth year industrial engineering student, and Ozan Coskun, a third year mechanical engineering student, said that their most memorable moment from the competition was watching their sled, The Black Pearl, complete its first run. 

The UofTBog team have been strong contenders in the GNCTR every year since the ‘90s. This year the team took home both the most original award and most innovative honours for their carbon-fibre composed toboggan cage and pilot-themed design. The team also placed in the King of the Hill competition, taking home third place for the fastest toboggan. 

If you were wondering how fast a concrete toboggan can go, or how teams bring their sleds back up the ski-hill, Matt and Ozan note that their safety board reviewed design reaches 50 km/h and further, and that they employ a snowmobile to lug the 275lb monster back up the hill. 

When asked why they take part in this unique activity, Matt and Ozan note that like most engineers, their team takes great pride in a challenge, the innovation required, and the practical application of the skills they’ve gained through education.   

The GNCTR has an entire component dedicated to showing the most school-spirit, one award the UofTBog team refuses to give up without a fight.

In typical Skule fashion, the high-spirited team engage themselves in the nature of the competition.

The five-day experience comes complete with a hotel stay, visits to the downtown core, exhibitions, and plenty of beverages. The event also gives the contributing students a chance to network with other engineers from various schools across the country, in addition to providing both recreation and rivalry.

Following the competition, UofTBog will begin preliminary recruitment in an effort to put together another winning team for 2017.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the years and majors of Matthew Frade and Ozan Coskun. The Varsity regrets the errors.