Meet Coach Grace

I was born on October 27th, 1990 in Kitchener, Ontario. I have three younger siblings; two sisters, and a brother, Naomi, Hannah and Isaac. We grew up with great neighbours in downtown Kitchener playing outside constantly. As kids, we were involved in as much as we could be; playing piano, swimming lessons, soccer etc. 

Classic first day of school pic

PictureLife as a Sea~Hawk #31

When I was in grade 5 my mom signed me up for Saturday Wildhawk Basketball House League. I knew nothing about basketball but I had a friend in soccer who also played in this Saturday league so I went to check it out. The first day I heard about tryouts for a select team that were happening that week. I told my mom about it, not giving any actual thought to trying out. She had a different idea however. My mom sees everything as an opportunity to learn something new. She has taught me this again and again over the years. She managed to convince me to go to the tryout. She said that even if I was 100% sure I wasn’t going to make it, it would simply be more time on the court exposing me to the sport of basketball. So, I went to the tryout. I was incredibly nervous. But I went and I sucked, big time. At this point I still didn’t really know the rules of basketball besides that the objective was to get the ball to go through the hoop. I remember getting called for a foul not having a clue what I had done that was a foul or what was going to happen to me now that I committed said foul. Having grown up watching hockey, my reasoning was that it I would have to go to basketball’s equivalent of the penalty box. I was quite embarrassed by my lack of understanding of the game. When it came to the end of the tryout and the coach talked to us individually I wasn’t surprised to find out that I didn’t make the team. But I remember walking out of that meeting filled with a pride for having done something that was new and scary. I stayed in the Saturday house league and kept working on my game. I tried out the next two years and got cut both. After being cut from the same team, for the same coach 3 years in a row, I finally made the team. This was now grade 8. I still wasn’t any good, I barely played and I was scared to catch the ball because I didn’t want to screw up. But I worked hard and I was very coachable. I soaked up anything anyone would teach me.

In high school I played every sport I could; basketball, volleyball, soccer, badminton, track and field and rugby, while still playing soccer and basketball outside of school. It was amazing, I would attend classes with all my friends and teammates while my evenings were filled with sports. I loved it.
When I began high school I was still a pretty awkward mover. I was later described as “spastic but could jump through the roof “. I had athleticism but it didn’t appear that way until I was finished growing about halfway through high school, until then I was slightly uncoordinated.
As my grade 10 year came to a close one of my coaches Ann Weber approached me about my thoughts about playing varsity basketball in University. I hadn’t even considered it because I didn’t think I was near good enough to be considered for varsity. But she planted the thought in my head and I began to work even harder as I made it a goal of mine. Ann was an assistant coach with the Laurier team and they hosted a Top 60 Camp for elite level female basketball players in Ontario. The camp had many University coaches attend every year to get a chance to coach and recruit players. The athletes that attended the camp got exposure to coaches from across the country and it was my first year at this camp that I met my future University coach, Doug Partridge.
In the fall of grade 12, I got a call from Doug expressing his interest in having  me play for him at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) the following year. That fall I watched the MUN Sea~Hawks when they came to a tournament in Ontario. I also went on a recruiting trip to check out the campus, the team and what it might be like to live in Newfoundland. I got a good feeling when I was there and decided to commit.
I moved to St. John’s in August of 2008 to take Kinesiology at Memorial University and play basketball for the Sea~Hawks. 

PicturePlaying for the TOWERS including my infamous “face”

This is where my basketball career really began. Now even though I wasn’t so awkward anymore, I still didn’t have a lot of basketball skill, I was basically a skinny, athletic kid who hustled hard and listened to everything the coach said. My first year was tough in many ways. I got decent minutes for a rookie. But it was a big adjustment living so far from home, we practiced, lifted weights, ran in the mornings and got in the gym to shoot constantly. Outside of class and schoolwork that’s pretty much all there was time for. After Christmas things got a bit easier as I had adjusted to University life. That semester I ended up switching my program from Kinesiology to a joint major of Applied Mathematics and Physics.
We finished that season losing in the semi-finals of playoffs, and it was a terrible game. Then we had our year end meeting. My coach used to do this thing where he would rank us in terms of stats that he had collected throughout the year. I was ranked dead last on the team. Last. It was awful and, as it turns out, incredibly motivating. I went home that summer and worked harder than I’d ever worked. I got a summer job and I was constantly in the gym, weight training, shooting and scrimmaging with the local university teams. I was determined to make my team better in my second year.
I was a different player when I went back to St. John’s that next fall for my second year. It was obvious that I had put in the work that summer and it paid off during preseason that year, I got my first starting opportunity. I made the most of it and ended up starting for the rest of my career. This drive to always be improving, continued to fuel me throughout my career.
Moving on to my third year. This was my favourite year, I was healthy and strong and I had finally learned how to shoot the ball. With the help of my coach I had made myself into a player. We were hosting playoffs that year and I was determined to do well. I did everything I could. Everything. To the point that my school work suffered, but at the time I didn’t care. We had one goal, to win playoffs. I had my University career high game that year with 35 pts, I was also named a 2nd team all-star in our league and Team MVP. But none of it mattered as all I wanted was to win that championship banner in our home gym. We won our quarter final game and got a chance to play in the semi-final. To this day, there has been nothing that has compared to that feeling of playing on Saturday night in front of a home crowd. It was incredible. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a hard feeling to describe when you work that hard for something and it doesn’t come to pass, but such is life. I was again, more motivated for the next year.
It was at this point that I discovered CrossFit. Peter, got me into it. He tricked me into doing “Death by Pull-ups”. That’s the one where you do 1 pull-up the first minute, 2 the second minute and so on. After that Peter signed me up for the very first CrossFit open and I was hooked. Each of the 6 workouts in the Open that year had an exercise in it that I had never done. Also, there was no scaled division back then so you just did best you could. I had some strength when I began but my technique and gymnastic needed work. Somewhere out there, there are some very funny videos of me falling on my face doing toes to bar, being very obviously scared of dropping the barbell on some ground to overheads and throwing my chest at the bar in C2B pull-ups. After the Open, CrossFit replaced my other weight training in my training for basketball

My fourth year was a rough one. I was scrimmaging one day with my team in August and I went into anaphylactic shock. I spent the whole year managing playing time and trying to solve a mysterious illness with odd symptoms. I saw 20 different types of doctors and no one really knew what was going on. I missed 9/20 games that year and in the end the best answer I got was that I was allergic to Mangos. The symptoms eventually lessened and I managed to get back to working out and playing at full capacity again.
My fifth and final year had a rocky start as I managed to roll my ankles significantly 3 times within the first few months. I recovered in time for the season. I savoured every moment of playing that year. My coach used to tell us that there are few things in your life that have true time limits to them, but playing 5 years of varsity sports is one of those things. We lost a heartbreaker in the semi-finals that year and my career as a Sea~Hawk was done. Finishing that year, I received a first team all-star, tournament all-star, team MVP and was named as Female Athlete of the year at Memorial.
For those of you who have played varsity athletics or done something that has that definite time limit, you understand that it’s like losing a piece of you. It’s like losing your identity. You identify as a basketball player to yourself and everyone around you for so long that it’s hard to let go of and understand who you are after that is done. I call it 5th year syndrome. I was one of the fortunate ones because even though my varsity career was over, my identity as a basketball player was not.
After my 5th season ended I began to do research into playing overseas in Europe. I found an agent and with the help of old opponent in my league who had played for the TOWERS I arranged a tryout with her team in Speyer, Germany. That April 2013, I rushed to write my final exams of my degree and flew out before the graduation ceremony to attend a mock G-20 conference in St. Petersburg, Russia. I attended a tryout with the TOWERS as I stopped in Germany on my way back from Russia. I had a good tryout and I was so pleased with the environment that I signed a contract with them before I flew home. My coach told me a year later that he was watching me at that tryout trying to figure out what I did, what my speciality was. He eventually realized that it was my versatility. I could play every position, guard every position, shoot, rebound, defend, drive, pass and dribble. I wasn’t exceptional at any one thing but it was my ability to do it all that made me a unique and valuable player. It was interesting hearing that as I began to realize it doesn’t just pertain to my basketball skills. That’s how I want to be, versatile and adaptable. 

The TOWERS team took good care of me. I had my flights paid for, including home for Christmas, they gave me a place to live and a monthly income. They also set me up with a job teaching at a German high school. I absolutely loved my time in Germany. I met some incredible people, I became more proficient with my German, I got to travel and ultimately, I got to continue playing the sport I love. The first year I was there we made playoffs with only 7 players at the end of the season. We used to have to find someone to sit on our bench so that we’d have 8 players dressed as there was a fine if you didn’t. Only 4 out of 12 teams make playoffs. Unfortunately, we lost in a best of 3 series in the semi-finals. My second year we finished 5th in the league, just missing playoffs. While I was home for Christmas in my second year there was a lot going on with my immediate family and friends so when I travelled back to Germany for the second half of the season I was struggling with whether or not I wanted to come back the following year. Eventually I came to the decision that I wouldn’t come back. As amazing as the experience was, basketball wasn’t my be all and end all anymore. I wanted to play other sports and I wanted to go back to University and further my education. Once I made the decision to stop playing basketball I was very at peace with it. It was time.
When my second season ended that spring I knew I wanted to travel before I returned to Canada but the question was for how long? I remember asking my mom for her advice. This was her response, “Grace! You’re 24 going on 40. Go and travel and make some mistakes. How often in life will you have a free flight home and place to stay when you get there?!” So I travelled for 5 months all around Europe. It was amazing.

When my mom says, “Hey Grace, let’s hike for 10 days from Chamonix to Zermatt over the alps with no training.”

After travelling, I moved home to Waterloo, studied for my MCATs and got a job coaching at The CrossFit Side. The following year I moved to Toronto to start my Masters in Biomedical Physics at Ryerson. This has been my most recent challenge, full time jock to full time physicist! Not the most conventional route.
A little more about me. I can’t get enough of travelling to new places. I absolutely love mountains and the ocean. I enjoy doing handstands, pretty much everywhere. I’m a dog person. My mom is my hero for more reasons than I can name. I get grumpy if I don’t do something active in my day. I genuinely like meeting new people and hearing their stories. I’m a coffee drinker and I love my beer.

That’s all she wrote for now folks. I’m eager to see where life takes me next. Thanks for reading and if you want to know more feel free to ask. 

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