I recall being at a friend’s house in elementary school, sitting around with a few other girls. I watched as they cut pictures of their favorite outfits and actresses out of magazines and glued them onto coloured construction paper. I have a separate distinct memory of my younger self at about the same age, sitting at my kitchen table. Instead, I was choosing pictures of my favourite Toronto Maple Leaf, Doug Gilmour, to cut out and glue into my Doug Gilmour scrapbook – and believe me, this scrapbook was extensive.
I admired the way he left his jersey half untucked, if that counts as fashion.
I’ve loved everything to do with sports for as long as I can remember. The phrase “eat, sleep, sports” certainly reigned true in my household growing up. Many of my strongest and warmest memories of childhood revolve around them, like playing road hockey with my brother and our neighbours, baseball in my cousins’ backyard, or traveling for volleyball tournaments with my best friends.
When I wasn’t playing sports, I was watching them. Most Friday nights were spent in hockey arenas with my family at my little brother’s games. When they could, my parents would treat us to a trip to Maple Leaf Gardens or the Sky Dome (that’s what they were called back in the day) to watch our favourite professional teams play. And if we weren’t there live, we were spectating from the comfort of our home. In either case, you’d better believe that there was a lot of cheering going on.
As a kid, sports represented fun, family, and friends. As I matured and as I reflected, I realized that sports also offer community. They facilitate togetherness and camaraderie. Sports are powerful in that they evoke so many emotions; whether you’re playing in a championship game, or cheering for a friend on the sidelines. They are challenging, both physically and mentally. They teach important life lessons about hard work, discipline, teamwork, patience, and communication. They can lead to opportunities for higher education. When you really break it down, it can be said that sports have the ability to shape a person, and a life. Sports are a gift.
My passion for sports is obvious if you’re reading this or if you know me. A mentor once told me that Sports Medicine was “woven into the very fiber of my being,” and that’s exactly how I feel. Entering the field of Sports Medicine never seemed like a choice to me, but rather, what I was meant to do. A natural step. Sports Medicine chose ME. And it did so irrespective of my gender.
Now, I’ve never really viewed myself as a feminist, but it’s easier to reflect on these sorts of things when the male/female proportions are so obviously off balance in your immediate reality. Biases become glaringly clear in these situations, don’t they? Yes, I am a woman. And truthfully, I had never been as acutely aware of my gender as I have been since entering the field of Sports Medicine.
But independent of the fact that I am a female in a markedly male-dominated specialty, and also in spite of it, I SUCCEEDED. I succeeded in landing a top notch residency, in completing a strong fellowship program, in contributing meaningfully to academia, and most recently, I succeeded in landing a job back at home, with my family, doing what I love — practicing Sports Medicine. The poetic thing about it is that I know that those skills that I learned as a young (female) athlete helped me to succeed in all of this.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that it isn’t always rosy being a woman in a male-dominated field; that has been my firsthand experience as well. And that can be said for all disciplines, not just Sports Medicine. There have definitely been times where I have felt dismissed, overlooked, and undermined, purely based on my gender. But, here’s the thing – I choose to not let it affect me. In this context, I don’t want to be defined by my gender. I want to be defined by the work that I do. By the person that I am. The impact that I have on both my patients and the students that I teach. The relationships that I make. Overall, I am defined by the mark I make on the field.
I never gave my gender a single thought while making career choices. And if others along the way did, I didn’t let it affect me. That child sitting at her kitchen table cutting out pictures of her favourite hockey player still is, and always will be me. I choose to honour her. And if you can relate, I suggest you do too.