“I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”
I paused, waiting for him to continue imparting wisdom.
Don’t leave me standing here, let me know the way.
I had decided to venture onto the fourth floor to happen upon any of my old teachers. Fortunately, both Mr. T and Mr. C happened to be lingering within their respective classrooms at the end of the high school day. Mr. T taught me chemistry in grades ten and twelve, while Mr. C’s grade eleven class was sandwiched in the year between.
“Do you think anyone knows what they truly want to do or who they want to be at the age of eighteen? I just started teaching after all my schooling and stumbled into enjoying teaching you guys. I’ve been doing it ever since.”
I took solace in Mr. T’s guidance and sauntered towards Mr. C a few doors down. Though he struggled to remember my name at this sudden appearance, it was easy to recall his impact on me. His class was fun, expectations were high, and Dr. House was a fictional figure to be revered.
“I want all of you to think the way that he does,” he exclaimed while showing us an episode of House during class. “When you answer the bonus questions at the end of my tests, I don’t want you to give me any BS. Think outside the box and defend your words.” I had never been taught this way by a science teacher before (or ever again). I was captivated in his classroom. We finished the curriculum early just to fit in a learning unit on recreational drugs. In pairs, a presentation on one of these drugs was a requirement. In fact, I omitted the names of my teachers when I got to this paragraph to prevent any potential trouble.
While Mr. C instructed me to be unorthodox in my analytics, it was Mr. B located four floors down who provided my gateway drug into kinesiology at York University. I leaned against the right handrail of the middle staircase of my former high school as I bounded down the steps towards the first floor. I ran into Mr. B in one of the hallways near his classroom. He taught me both civics in grade ten and exercise science in grade twelve but it was keeping me off his basketball team in grade eleven that I remembered most vividly. Mr. B was pleased to run into me and curious about my life trajectory. Any ill will quickly dissipated (even though I missed two shots the entire tryout and hit a left-handed layup over who ended up being the starting center that year – honestly, I am no longer bitter).
It was finally time for why I was back at the old stomping grounds. Though I meandered from the school entrance, to the fourth floor, and all the way down again, I was at the gymnasium after catching up with Mr. T, Mr. C, and Mr. B. Our lead custodian Rick was the coach of the (previously non-existent) junior boys basketball team and I was embarking on a weeks-long journey to shadow him as the major assignment for my third year university coaching course. I exchanged pleasantries with Rick and he expressed excitement over having an assistant coach for a few weeks (surprise!). I suppose I was dressed for the role: zip-up long-sleeve and sweatpants. I was ready to actively teach at a moment’s notice. I was ready to start my coaching career by seeing the fork in the road and walking straight and off the beaten path.
The contents of those practices were not memorable but the circumstances surrounding them stood out. The school scheduled boys’ basketball practices in the morning on the same day boys’ volleyball practices were in the afternoon. The athletes on both teams were forced to choose. As the volleyball team was more successful, the basketball team featured quite a few missing pieces during the practices held at seven in the morning. I commended Rick for maintaining focus and uplifting morale during these waking-hour sessions. I recall scrimmaging once as only nine players were available and five-on-five action was sorely needed. Rick’s improvisation and cultivating of available students was the model for me to follow when coaching a few years later.
Upon completing my undergraduate Kinesiology degree, I continued to work as a pharmacy assistant and considered my options. During that gap year before embarking on a new journey, a friend from undergrad had started a year-long postgraduate program at a local college for Sport and Event Marketing. I’ve seen that road before. Wanting to continue pursuing a career in sport, I applied and was accepted for the semester beginning in January. Upon entering the classroom for the first time, I was greeted by a friend who was in the same group project with me as my friend who had taken the program the previous year! This seemed like a good omen.
I was enrolled at a program specifically related to the business of sport. Coming from the exercise science background, I believed I was covering all the bases – I had seen this road before. I excelled and secured a paid internship at a regional basketball non-profit organization running their tournaments. During in-class sessions, I was less prepared for the microaggression of being told “I speak English surprisingly well” or a few students locking up internships at the most important sport entity in Toronto despite having almost non-existent class attendance. I later found out that their fellow group member was cousins with someone working there. That lightbulb moment for me did not inspire an ensuing “eureka!” This aspect of the business of sport always left me waiting. Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried.
Ultimately, my internship landed me a part-time job directly working with my favourite sport. I continued to work in pharmacies throughout Toronto during the week and supervise the basketball tournaments I had planned during my internship on the weekend. Along the way I secured a volunteer role with the 2015 Toronto Pan Am games. 2015 will always be one of my favourite years. I was excelling in the three positions I was balancing and envisioned these experiences catapulting me into my future career. I thoroughly enjoyed and learned from every role thrust upon me. Unfortunately, a full-time opportunity still proved to be elusive.
I continued to support my family through my work in the pharmacy as I vetted any and every prospect within sport. Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried. I became a volunteer basketball head coach at the school where my friend was employed as an early childhood educator. I cherish the moments connecting with and mentoring those twelve to fourteen year old boys through my favourite sport. I vividly remember our star player missing two free throws to beat the hosting school and legendary local coach on their home floor. The inconsolable Jahzi in a pool of tears on our bench was heartbreaking.
Throughout this coaching journey, my current boss was flexible, navigating around my practice schedule to continue growth in my pharmacy capacity. A funny thing happened along my meandering path. I thrived as a pharmacy technician, built a network of pharmacists along the way, and decided that the long and winding road always led me back to this door. A nighttime high school physics class, a few undergraduate science and math courses, a national pandemic, and a failed first attempt later; I still plan on knocking on that pharmacy school door.
Many times I’ve been alone, and many times I’ve cried.
The long and winding road has led me to this door.