Susan Thompson is a fifth year UBC student and Thunderbird who will be graduating in the spring. She played the last game of her university career against the University of Alberta Pandas in the Canada West Quarter-finals on February 24, 2016.
It started on March 5, 2016. That buzzer in the University of Saskatchewan Huskies' gym was the beginning of the end.
We had just lost against the Huskies — officially ending our 2015/16 season. In that moment of shock and sadness, all I could think about while looking at my teary-eyed seniors was “shit, that’s me next.”
No longer a fourth-year, I felt a mix of sadness and anxiety watching them come to terms with the end of their college careers. It was hard to imagine. After following in my mentors' footsteps for four years, I had only one year left with competitive basketball.
I was a senior. “Here goes nothing,” I thought.
My time at UBC had been far from uneventful. As a fresh-faced university kid, I was living in a new city on my own for the first time. Luckily for me, I had an immediate support system of my T-Bird family — most other students weren’t as lucky.
Our team also had a big rookie class of five. These young rooks supported each other through our Saturday morning wreck stairs workouts, came together to push our head coach's car out of the snow during a blizzard in Winnipeg and of course, all showed up strong on the dance floor at Lola’s.
I faced a few hurdles. For my first three years, I had numerous nagging lower body injuries including a stress fracture. In addition, our team was filled with star-studded veterans above me up until my fourth year. I just waited for my chance to contribute on the court to be handed to me. But it doesn’t work that way.
Throughout those years, I still had a unique effect on the outcomes of games. “Loud” would be the best way to describe it.
The goal was to be the loudest person in the gym and — no matter my minutes — bring the team's energy up, not down. It was what I was good at. I filled a role many others wouldn’t fit into.
More than once, I’d have Adrienne Parkin and Shilpa Khanna hit my knee while I was in the middle of screaming, “grab the boards!” at someone else. They’d say, “Do it now, start the chant.” I’d be confused, but then I realized they wanted me to start a defensive chant because my voice was the loudest on the bench.
Despite my loud mouth, I was still recruited to play basketball. The level of success I was having on the court was not where I’d hoped it would be. This was more than obvious each day as I took my basketball shoes off and strapped my aircast — the grey thing people with broken feet wear — back on everyday for three months straight.
Frustration kicked in. I noticed the start of thoughts like “Why am I here? I’m not bringing anything useful to the team. I’m a failure.” Having always been a top athlete, I was feeling a lack of purpose.
I kind of “found” myself at UBC (cheesy, I know). I attribute it down to a spark in my third year and something my parents always said to me that pushed me out of my comfort zone and take control of my happiness. They would respond to my most recent rantings about a tough practice with a variation of “shit happens, what are you going to do about it?”
My parents inspiring words rang through my head when things felt like they just weren’t meant to be. “What are you gonna do about it?” I started to think about other aspects of UBC I enjoyed, reasons to stay here and what my passion was. A way to find balance in my life…
Balance was a typical hilarious night at home with Jaime Hills, Nicole Saxvik, Stephanie Schaupmeyer and Meagan Pasternak, belting Rihanna and Adele or planning our next luau. Balance was embracing my inner social butterfly, joining the Thunderbird Athletic Council (TAC) as a team rep in my second year and completing two years as an executive in charge of outreach and “hype games.” Balance was living the Kits life for the summers and exploring beautiful BC.
So as that buzzer went and those feelings of disbelief and pressure were overwhelming me, it was all coming to an end and what was I going to do about it? Enjoy it and leave a legacy with my leadership.
The final year. That’s when the sappy reminiscing starts. Trust me, we milk it the whole year. Each day brought a different emotion. First, it was panic that we now carried all the leadership and responsibilities. The second shock was trying to remember where four out of five years had gone. Third was a newfound satisfaction that we now ran the show. And then it went back to the panic again that we had to “adult” real soon.
It was off to a bumpy start. Our original rookie class was down to two and it meant I was part of a whole new leadership group with seven incoming players. Age gaps were evident, standards and rules were set, but the learning of being a respected mentor hasn’t stopped. I felt constant stress trying to help my team become the best they can be as the most contributing leader that lacks on-court prowess.
“What are you gonna do about it?”
I learned a few lessons of my own over five years. You find a family in your team. The stress was unnecessary, especially when it made you question the sport you love. Remember to keep the big picture in sight and take your fate into your own hands. In a crazy way, we find a way to become adults.
That question lit a fire under my ass daily. It led to many amazing experiences, a lot of personal growth over five years and TAC progress — hopefully leaving behind a closer and inspired varsity community. I never thought I would stand on a stage and speak in front of 1,000 university leaders and Thunderbirds more than once — at the ZLC millennium scholarship breakfast and the Big Block awards. When I look back to see the lessons I’ve learned, I remember everyone has a role.
Find balance. Find your niche. Leave a legacy in the best way you can.