Thursday, May 8, 2014

Cierra Gaudet - Culture Shock From PEI To The Nation's Capital

Small-Town Girl to a City Slicker!

When I was younger, I never dreamt that I would ever live in a big city, much less the capital of Canada at that. I had my first real taste of city life when my family took a vacation to Toronto when I was 12 years old. I remember being VERY nervous to fly and then completely shocked when I saw how tall the buildings were in Toronto from a bird’s eye view! It was so bizarre. To me, I couldn’t
figure out why there were no potato fields, farmland and beaches. Instead, all I could see were buildings upon buildings, skyscrapers upon skyscrapers and I knew at that moment that I wasn’t in island territory anymore. No, this was a whole new adventure.

If I had to describe PEI in one word, I think I would choose “serene” because of how life moves on a day to day basis. While some people are busy-bodies, for the most part, life on the island is very slow-paced, relaxing and blissful (ignore everything I just said during the winter months…but if anything, it just makes us appreciate the other seasons dearly). In PEI there are approximately 145, 000 people and where I grew up in Summerside, about 15, 000…hence you definitely had the “small-town” feel.

Summerside, PEI
I really enjoyed growing up in Summerside because everyone was so friendly and families were extremely close to one another. If you went out shopping, you’d probably run into at least one person you knew and it was just a very tight-knit community atmosphere. We have the main necessities like most cities, but not to the same extent. There is one high school, one movie theatre, one main recreation center for sports, one main mall, a couple grocery stores, some fast food joints, a few nice restaurants, small businesses and then you have our local tourist attractions such as the Shipyard market, Spinnakers Landing and the Loyalist hotel. (Although in the last few years, we’ve gotten a lovely boardwalk, our recreation center has been redone, we’ve gotten an A&W, a Sportchek and I’ve heard that we are patiently awaiting a Starbucks to open!) So, I mean, we’re getting there. The speed limit around town is 40 (except for the odd back roads which are 70 and then there is one stretch of highway where you can get up to 90 and that was always a highlight!) but basically it’s pretty “slow-going”. It’s no wonder why PEI has been such a favorite vacation spot for years! It provides a very relaxing atmosphere and you’re only 10 minutes from a beach in practically any direction. Finding a little slice of paradise is always just a short drive away. My parents live by the water and can kayak every day, that’s just amazing!

I was very lucky to be born with natural athletic ability which allowed me to pick up any sport pretty quickly. I took an interest in cross country, soccer, basketball, badminton and track & field, but mostly focused on both basketball and track as my two main passions. I was fortunate enough to transfer my work ethic for academics into my training for sports and so this gave me an edge when trying out for teams. I am proud to say that I made every team I ever tried out for (but not without hard work and dedication before the tryouts). I didn’t want to just be picked for a team, I wanted the team to need me and that was always my philosophy. My greatest sporting achievement growing up as a high school athlete would have been attending the 2009 Canada Summer Games as a dual sport athlete for both basketball and track.

I never really noticed a difference in living, or sports until I began to venture off-island for team trips and tournaments. The way of life was different (much faster) and the competition was incredibly harder. It was only then that I began to see the differences between provinces and between cities. In junior high and high school, most of the travelling I did for sports was within the Maritime Provinces, with the exception of Newfoundland. I found that when competing within the Maritimes, the level of competition was relatively similar, but it still wasn’t the same as playing back home. The level of talent in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia was evident in the fact that there were so many different club teams to play and compete against. There were many more athletes to choose from, whereas on PEI we had only one team for each age group. Therefore, on my U17 basketball team, there were only 12 of us and if someone got hurt, we didn’t have any replacement options waiting around. For track it much the same. The NB and NS track clubs were bigger and the talent was incredible.

I still didn’t really understand the essence of being from a big province until Canada Games began. I then got a taste of the rest of Canada’s talent, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and man, did I EVER notice a difference then! I mean let’s just think about this for a second. Ontario’s U17 girl’s Canada Games team was made up of only 12 players. The 12 BEST players in all of Ontario, who travelled from numerous cities to attend try-outs and then if they made the team, travelled even greater distances to make practices. In the bigger cities, there is so
much talent to choose from that as an athlete, you need to specialize in your sport early. The hard work and dedication of these athletes was amazing and it’s no wonder why these teams are successful. This is where being from a smaller province presents some differences. Most athletes can play more than one sport, there are only a certain percentage of us that will continuously try-out for sports teams and so you have a good chance of making more than one squad. At first I thought that maybe this was the reason why the level of talent was so much different than from other provinces in Canada. However, I still thought that my teams trained, practiced and competed just as much as these other teams so what was the issue?

In the end, I narrowed it down to geographic location and funding. PEI is a very small province; we unfortunately do not have the same amount of funding capacity that can go towards sports compared to some of these bigger provinces such as Ontario, Alberta and BC. Moreover, we also do not have the same level of competition to play against on a regular basis. For us to even play a good team we had to travel off-island to do so and that cost money. Money, which we had to save up for bigger tournaments, National championships and Canada Games, therefore it made a difference. I am by no means saying that I feel in any way ashamed for competing for my province. If anything, I am proud to say that I was one of the best from PEI and that’s something that I pride myself on and will forever. It just made me realize, that sometimes, things are out of your control, but that shouldn’t stop you from playing your best and giving it your all in any sport you do. From coast to coast, each athlete has a certain level of respect for the other. At the end of the day, yeah, maybe I didn’t win as many medals as some other athletes, but I still felt a sense of accomplishment and that’s what truly matters. J