Pandemic leaves Tri-City student-athletes’ competitive aspirations in limbo

One Port Moody family faces difficult decisions as daughters set to go away to study and compete

Jasmine Lew flies far as a long jumper heading into her third year at the University of Toronto. But even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, her sophomore season was grounded by a Level 4 concussion she suffered last January.

The Heritage Woods secondary school grad is hopeful the forced time away from sport will allow her the opportunity to regain her health and form that earned Lew the Ontario University Athletics rookie athlete of the year as a freshman. But with OUA competition cancelled through the fall season, and the status of winter sports still uncertain, whether she’ll even be able to hit the sand pit in her junior year is up in the air.

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U Sports, the national governing body for university athletics in Canada, announced the cancellation of all national championships for first term sports, like football, men’s and women’s soccer, and women’s rugby and field hockey, on June 8. The fate of individual sports such as golf, cross-country running and swimming will be determined by July 15.

Indoor track is a second-term sport. U Sports has said it will hold off making a decision on their seasons until Oct. 8.

And while that buys Lew some time, it doesn’t diminish the uncertainty of her immediate athletic future.

The public health emergency has put the competitive aspirations of student-athletes into limbo.

U Sports has said its student-athletes will still be eligible to receive financial assistance like athletic scholarships as long as they remain students in “good standing,” and they won’t lose a year of their eligibility to play.

But that assurance doesn’t make it any easier for families facing the prospect of sending their kids away from home to study and maybe compete. Especially if transmission of the novel coronavirus reinvigorates itself, as many experts predict is likely come fall.

“If there is a second wave, safety is our number one priority,” said Raquel Chin, Jasmine’s mom.

Her concern is especially heightened, as she has another daughter, Jade, who’s also headed to Toronto in the fall, on a field hockey scholarship at York University.

Chin said the girls’ coaches — Carl Georgevski at the U of T, and York field hockey coach Zeeshan Minhas — have been in constant communication, answering questions and providing training programs, but with Toronto more of a hotspot for COVID-19 infections than British Columbia, her optimism is guarded.

Jade Lew said some her trepidation about heading to Toronto in the fall is tempered by the fact she already knows some of her future teammates who are also from the Tri-Cities.

“I am sure that will help,” she said. “I think it is important to stay positive, but if I need to, I know that I can go home right away.”

While Jade already knows she won’t be playing a competitive season, she’s still training six days a week, often with her sister, at a gym they have set up in their Port Moody home. She said she’s hopeful the York U. field hockey team will be able to play some exhibition matches against nearby schools by next spring.

Jasmine said she’s anxious to get back to Toronto, where she expects she’ll have a bit more time to concentrate on her studies in kinesiology, which will be a combination of online lectures and on-campus classes. She also hopes she’ll have recovered from her concussion enough to increase the tempo of her training so she’ll be in top form again should her season resume.

Chin said she’s confident the schools and their athletic departments will do right by her daughters.

“They are very invested in their programs, and the care they have for their players is very evident,” she said.

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