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The life of OCAA athlets on and off the court as they struggle to balance school, social lives and practice.

by Andrea Iseman
Sweat Magazine
Winter 2008

In a small three-bedroom apartment in north Toronto, Kate Weiss, 22, awakes to an argument brewing and the smell of pasta on the stovetop. “Why do you have to cook at 3 a.m.?” she hears. “Because I want to.” Weiss, an athlete, has a routine quite different than her roommates. She wants and needs sleep badly to keep up her energy. Frustrated and angry, she walks into the kitchen in a sleepy haze.

“The one roommate who is in his 40s has to work and he was upset that this young guy was cooking at like two and three in the morning,” she complains. “He came out to confront him and tell him, ‘can you please keep it down.’ And the younger guy got really defensive and was like, ‘I’m not changing my lifestyle for you. If I wanted that I would live with my family.’ It could have easily happened to me too if I went to confront him; his lifestyle affected both of us that night. ”

For Weiss, training herself to sleep while her 25-year-old roommate is awake and running errands at night is not a way to live. If given the option, living with other athletes would be on the top of her list. And Weiss isn’t the only one who feels this way.

For a growing number of athletes, the conflicts that arise between them and their roommates is a frustrating reality. And the likelihood of conflicts increases exponentially when athletes live with non-athletes. Living with other athletes just makes more sense, several sources told SWEAT.

“Just the certain things we have to deal with would be similar,” Weiss says. “Just having someone there to push us and be supportive, who is saying ‘I’m going through the same thing – we can get through this.’”

Vyron Phillips agrees. The 24-year-old Algoma University basketball player says his busy lifestyle is hardly understood by anyone who isn’t an athlete. He currently lives with two other athletes. He has always thought that is the best route to follow.

“We are on the same page,” says Phillips. “It just fits together.”

For many students who choose this lifestyle, it is a little like being a superhero, student by day and athlete by night. Moving with the same crowd day in and day out means athletes form a close-knit family all year round. Phillips grew up in urban Minneapolis, so he says he related immediately to his roommate, Andy Haidar, who grew up in Scarborough.

“We connected through our struggles,” Phillips confides. “Where I’m from is really, really bad, and there is a lot of stuff in my life I have been through. And my roommate, he has been through similar things too.”

Because of many hours spent together on the road and in practice, their bond is now permanently etched onto their skin.

“When I got a tattoo on my chest of my little brother, who died,” says Phillips, “[Haidar] got a tattoo of his coach who died . . . And when I got a Leo on my arm, he put something on his arm too,” he says.

Athletes who live together and play together can motivate each other on and off the court.

“If you see someone going to work out, even if you don’t want to, you will do it because you are an athlete and a competitor. You want to get better than that guy in front of you,” says Phillips. “You always want to be the number one guy.”

For Ashley Visser, captain of both Durham’s women’s basketball and soccer teams, there are many benefits to living with another athlete.

“You have someone to lean on when you are busy,” says Visser. “It is like living with one of your good friends. We can hang out and vent to each other.”

(l tor) Terri-Ann Davey, Krista Metcalf and Ashley Visser

Visser and her roommates relax by playing Guitar Hero. (l to r) Terri-Ann Davey, Krista Metcalf and Ashley Visser. Photo by Jason Sahlani.

Like Weiss, Visser has found the lives of non-athletes too disruptive for the structure she and her teammates needed. As a result, she asked a former roommate to leave.

“One of our roommates forgot that we had to get up early and would have friends over until 2 or 3 a.m.,” she says in a shy, quiet tone. “I felt bad asking her to keep it down because it is her house too, but I had no other choice. How can you say you can’t have friends over?”
Toronto sports psychologist Dr. Kate Hays, says athletes’ routines mean they have to put in a lot of practise time. Hays adds that while their relationships with their teammates might blossom, other aspects of their social lives might wither away.

“Someone who is not involved in that high performance framework might be like ‘why cant you just blow off practice,’” she says. “They might say ‘come on, chill. Take a night off — let’s watch a DVD.’ And the athlete saying no could cause a conflict.”

Phillips’ busy life leaves little time for his relationship with his girlfriend. He has seen many relationships fail because of sports. Dr. Hays says this is a sad reality.

“I try to explain it to her,” Phillips says. “Basketball helped me get here, and if I wasn’t playing basketball I wouldn’t be in school.”

After being together two years, Phillips has figured out a rhythm in his relationship with his girlfriend. Give it time, and things will work out the way they are supposed to, he says.

“She might not talk to me for a few days,” says Phillips. “But when she realizes and thinks about it, she will call me.”

He has devised a system to manage his busy life.

The Algoma Thunderbirds’ bond has grown beyond friendship and turned into a family connected through their love of the game.

“We might have a disagreement, but we die together,” Phillips says. “When I leave Algoma, I know I’m still going to be connected with my teammates. We are brothers.”

To read my article in its original format, just click here, and go to pages 18 to 19.

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