Women in sports, during and after York

(Images courtesy of York Lions and LFL Toronto Triumph)

Endurance, excitement, energy, and power — all of these emotions will run through you while playing your favourite sport. Once COVID-19 hit, this all came to a sudden stop and sent those who love and enjoy the game into a tailspin. 

With no idea on whether they would ever be able to enjoy the game again, or get out and play again, the thought of no sports weighs heavy on the mind of true sports fans and players.

Three enthusiastic York Lionesses weigh in on their love of sports.

York Lions women’s hockey players Lauren Dubie, a fifth-year psychology student, as well as Kelsey McHolm, fifth-year communication studies student, could not imagine earning their degrees without playing hockey. The game has helped shape and form a part of who they have become.

Both of these women started playing different sports while they were children and continued to play throughout their adolescence. While playing their loved sport, they were noticed by York Lions coaches and eventually were recruited to the university’s teams. 

However, being recruited did not mean they were shown an easy time at York; both of these women had to earn their spot on the team. From working out to playing games anywhere from three to five days a week, these women also had to make time to study in between — a challenge they were more than ready to complete.

Before Dubie started playing hockey, she began figure skating as a child in her hometown of London, Ontario. As she grew older, she continued to play hockey and was eventually recruited to study and play at York.

Dubie expresses the excitement she felt playing hockey in the months before the pandemic was declared. York Lions women’s hockey team had stepped up their game making it to finals and nationals in P.E.I. 

Unfortunately, while in P.E.I. the pandemic was declared and the team was forced to come back home before finding out who would be crowned the true winner. Nobody expected COVID-19 to come out on top.

“I feel our team had the best year of hockey, I played the best year of hockey, and I am confident with graduating and walking away,” explains Dubie of her life after hockey and preparing her application for her masters in social work. 

Although she does not think the pandemic will be the end of sports at York, she feels comfortable with how far the team had come in her final year before her graduation.

McHolm’s time with the York Lions women’s hockey team had a similar beginning. While growing up in Winnipeg, she began playing softball and hockey with her older brother, his friends, and the other kids outside. 

McHolm speaks fondly of her experiences playing ringette, a game her mother also played that she picked up before continuing on to women’s hockey. When asked about COVID-19’s impact on sports, she believes it is not the end of sports while also adding that women’s hockey has a “lot of growth yet to come.”

However, she explains that one of the positives is the way women feed off of each other’s energy while playing. The audience knows when a good play is in motion — you can feel the emotion and energy in their cheers. This is something all athletes should takeaway from a game.

McHolm says she misses hockey and if it were possible, she would “lace up her skates in a heartbeat.” 

During her time away from the game, McHolm says that she and her teammates took advantage of the time off to discuss what they can do to improve their skills. For McHolm, while hockey is on hold, she is preparing to graduate and is awaiting her acceptance into a master’s program to pursue her dream of becoming a professor.

Davine Burton, a lawyer and York alumna, joined York’s rugby team while she was still a student. During her time as a York student in the 1990’s, York did not have a separate rugby team for women, so she played on a co-ed team.

During her next year, however, York got its own women’s team which she joined right away. Her love for rugby was so instilled in her that after she left York she continued to play for other women’s teams at a competitive level.

Playing sports also helped Burton to travel the world, where she played rugby for the Jamaica 7’s in Hong Kong. Burton describes that while in her home city of Toronto, she played with the Guardian Angels and an Ontario Women’s League team. However, with all the responsibilities women have, the players would often bring their children with them to the field.

Since all the players could not attend on the same day two to three days out of the week for practice or a game, they would hire a babysitter to attend and watch the children as they played. This way, everyone had an equal opportunity to get on the field and enjoy the game they love.

Burton’s advice for those interested in playing rugby and joining a team nearby is to start by joining a league in your area. If you live in a smaller town, join the league in the closest municipality.

Whether it be rugby or hockey, each player was made to feel welcome on their respective teams. None of them experienced a level of harassment or ignorance that made them feel threatened — a common concern among women playing in or working in male-dominated fields.

“Women empower each other,” says McHolm of her experiences playing on an all-female team.

Echoing these sentiments, Dubie adds, “Hockey will celebrate you as a person.”

Whether watching or suiting up to play with their team, each one of these women could not imagine their life without sports playing a role in it. 

Now that we are all living with an ongoing pandemic, physical sports are deeply missed by many. Despite the ongoing rollout of vaccines, it remains to be seen if the vaccine will make a drastic difference in the arena of sports. 

One thing’s for sure: there are many players who can’t wait to join their fellow teammates and even more fans who can’t wait for their favourite players and teams to suit up and play for them again.

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By Stephanie Anderson

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