Reflections part 2: Let’s Go Back a Bit to Where this All Started

3 years ago I was introduced to futsal by a friend who is both a soccer fanatic and a sport organizer. He was hosting casual coed futsal games in the west-end of Toronto for players who were intermediate to competitive – I tried it one night with his group and immediately felt it would be an excellent game for women and transgender folks who wanted to develop their skills. So that’s where that part of the story starts.

As you can tell, Lace Up Your Cleats (LUYC) is more than sport, it’s about community. I use sport as a vehicle to create connection, inspire fun and support individual empowerment as a player and person. I think for the most part I succeed in these goals and I try to tweak LUYC so that it appeals to more and more people.

In my early twenties I was involved in the activist scene in downtown Toronto, which was racially diverse, included people on all points of the gender spectrum, some had disabilities – some didn’t, mostly-if-not-exclusively queer, feminist in nature, there were people who identified as working-class, as hipster, as everything you could imagine. I tried to find my place in all of that, but it was hard. I was young, insecure, overwhelmed, in pain and generally alone. I wanted to belong and I wanted to be loved – doesn’t everyone?

I was friends and lovers with so many different people. I worked with those who had been activists for years and some that were newbies. I saw people change genders, change partners, fuck-up and do good work all at once. It was an illuminating time and it taught me that: A. I wanted to be a part of social change; and B. I was drawn to leading and creating community that was comfortable, down-to-earth, inclusive and challenging (in a good way).

So I learned these things, but I also racked up a lot of hurt, misunderstandings, burnt bridges that towards the end of my twenties I had had enough. I couldn’t be and fuck in the thick of it anymore, it was just too much. At the same time, I fell in love again with sport, particularly soccer (and then futsal), and embarked on a journey of self-discovery in sport. I became a certified soccer coach, I worked in sport as a leader and facilitator and then I launched LUYC, partly on a whim and partly because I yearned to create a sport community that spoke to my needs and the needs of so many like me who had experienced, and continue to experience marginalization both within the broader echelons of society and within specific niches and identity groups in Toronto.

I like to think of LUYC as a project in order to keep my expectations of it and myself in check, but I also don’t want to downplay the success and coolness of what I’m doing, where I come from and how my past and current experiences have shaped my approach. I love community, I love connection, I love sport and I love fun. None of that should be difficult, it should all be easy. That’s why LUYC started and why it continues.

Reflections part 1: Why I Run A Sporty, Socially Conscious Small Business

I think about this quite a lot, especially when things are stressful and unpredictable, which is often. It takes an enormous amount of energy to run a small business no matter the industry you are operating in and each has its own challenges, which can make or break goals, ambitions, budgets.

At the same time, it is an empowering and educational experience. As a woman who identifies within the LGBTQ community, running a small business is my way of creating community within an industry that is mostly queer and transgender (I use these as umbrella terms) unfriendly and quite rigid around gender. Reinventing the way teams are built and spaces are configured also allows me to show people that yes, sport can be fun, challenging, healthy and focused on development not the Win – Lose thing, not the ego thing, not the aggressive, masculine thing.

Again, it’s a lot of work. There’s venue and insurance costs, the hustle of maintaining your core players and bringing in new players, competition from other groups for venue time, publicity and marketing considerations, branding, program design, coaching, rules and officiating, etc., etc.

There’s also interpersonal dynamics and how relationships come to influence when and where people sign up for programming. With so much choice out there, how does one carve out their unique place? How does one build community?

So far what I’ve learned is that people have an appetite for fun and inclusive sport, but there’s trepidation: “It’s a new thing, I don’t know anyone, will I be comfortable and safe?”, “I’m still learning about said sport, will it be acceptable if I make mistakes?”, “I don’t know what transgender means, what’s futsal? This is unfamiliar to me and a little confusing, different, scary”.

These are valid questions and ones that I keep in mind every time I host an event or a program. Expectations around sport are skewed and geared towards competition and seriousness. It doesn’t have to be that way and I feel great satisfaction in upending mainstream attitudes. While I’m not sure how Lace Up Your Cleats (LUYC) has impacted everyone whose participated or heard about it, I draw inspiration and energy from those who respond to what I’m doing with curiosity, appreciation, respect and love. I do this for them and for myself because it’s important that all people, particularly marginalized people have an opportunity to play, grow and develop as physical beings. We are all capable of sport creativity and solid play. It is with this in mind that I march forward.

2016 Paralympic Summer Games from September 7-18

From September 7-18 Brazil will host the XXV Paralympic Summer Games. This year 162 athletes will compete at the Games for Team Canada including (bullets courtesy of the Ontario Government):

  • Priscilla Gagné, a Sarnia judoka who won silver at the 2015 Parapan Am Games.
  • Whitney Bogart, a 2015 Parapan Am Games Goalball gold medalist from Thunder Bay.
  • Melanie Hawtin, Ontario’s lightning-fast wheelchair basketball player from Oakville who won silver with Team Canada at the 2015 Parapan Am Games.
  • Jason Dunkerley, the Ottawa runner who is the current Canadian record holder for the T11 800m, 1500m and 5000m.

In total there will be 4,350 athletes from more than 161 countries, and a refugee team competing in 22 sports at the XXV Paralympic Summer Games. CBC will be providing full coverage of the Games, which includes ample opportunities for viewers to stream competitions.

The Opening Ceremony begins tomorrow, September 7 at 6:30 PM with wheelchair basketball veteran David Eng as Team Canada’s Paralympic flag-bearer. This will be an incredible chance to see a variety of sports that rarely make it onto television such as wheelchair tennis, archery, athletics, boccia, cycling, equestrian, football 5-a-side, football 7-a-side, goalball, paracanoe, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball!!!!

In an interview with CBC, Chantal Peticlerc – Team Canada’s Chef de Mission, appointee to the Senate of Canada and winner of 21 Paralympic medals – recently said (and I couldn’t agree more):

The level of inspiration that Canadians and kids with disability or older people with disability can get from our athletes and the Paralympic Games is amazing. . . It inspires because it proves that it can be done … That always touches me. It’s tough for a parent of a child with disabilities, because you want them to push their limits and you want them to believe anything is possible. So they can see the Paralympic Games with all the disabilities. You’ve got visually impaired people on a bike going 100 kilometres an hour. It’s a very, very powerful human message.