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Branded to the Game

By Shelby Johnston

In our university years, some of us have an impulse to mark our bodies, giving prominence to our significant experiences and passions. This isn’t just a millennial thing but a time-honoured tradition that some cultures have embraced for countless years.  In the past, for example, indigenous communities sometimes used tattoos to commemorate battle victories and highlight tribal traditions. A tattoo could define an individual’s allegiance to a group or showcase the spiritual power of a clan. Powerful stuff.

Culture has since shifted, and despite having our thirst for entertainment and conquest now quenched by sporting contests rather than by battles for land, tattooing has kept its allure. To know the inspiration behind someone’s tattoo is to better know its canvas. In the case of our Windsor Lancers, stories behind the ink help us conceptualize how our student-athletes were shaped by sports.

Hayley Douglas

At seventeen-years-old, Hayley Douglas asked her father a question that’s downright cringe-worthy for many dads – can I have a tattoo?  Douglas was leaving her hometown of Carnduff, Saskatchewan behind for the college life in Edmonton and wanted one.  She was a year shy of the legal age and needed more than his blessing to be tattooed – she needed his permission. It wasn’t easy but she got dad onside.

So what design would be displayed on her skin for the rest of her life? It’s not a decision one makes lightly but Canada’s love affair with hockey and her affinity for the game made it a natural choice. Douglas’ left upper thigh flaunts a skate lace seemingly tied and stitched into her body. Above the drawing reads: “Fire in my heart, ice in my veins.”

“Hockey has been in my veins since I was three years old,” she said with excitement as evident the masterpiece she bears. “Hockey is what holds me together. It is a lifestyle, and the skate lace resembles that is always a part of my life.”

Now 21 and with six more tattoos, Douglas has followed her love for the game to Windsor. The senior that once played for Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) now plays forward for the Lancers. She moved to Windsor when her coach at NAIT, Deanna Iwanicka (the Lancers’ new head coach) asked Douglas to follow her down to Ontario.

“I just graduated from NAIT and I was getting nervous that I did not have anywhere to play,” Douglas says, before admitting to not being ready to give up the game.

Alix Reiter

Alix Reiter, another westerner from NAIT, is making an early impact on the Windsor Lancer Women’s hockey team. As Reiter adjusts her glasses on her face, she exposes a small hockey stick positioned proximally on her left wrist. Reiter explains that she wanted the tattoo to be easily seen, as she always wants to show it off and have it as a constant reminder that hockey’s her life. It was her first tattoo, she chose it as an 18-year-old. Sharing the same love for the game, Reiter and a friend got nearly-matching tattoos. The difference? On Reiter’s drawn stick, there are ten tape notches at the top of the stick and five at the bottom to pay homage to the #15 she sports on her hockey sweater. Reiter joked that she would have been devastated if #15 wasn’t available on the Lancers.

Even though her father wasn’t happy about the tattoo, Reiter passionately expressed that, “I need hockey, it’s an escape from my life. When I walk on the ice nothing else matters.”

Reiter describes hockey as her number one dedication.

“I started skating when I was four years old. I always played low levels of hockey and worked my way up from there. I got cut from a lot of teams I tried out for. It wasn’t until Bantam when a coach gave me a chance on a competitive team only because they saw how my perseverance and dedication to the game.”

Rieter, who recently became the Lancers’ alternate captain, stresses that her team’s main objective this year is to make the playoffs. Douglas added that their off-ice goal is to be a family, support each other and come together as a team.

Derek Hick

Derek Hick started running cross-country in grade three and took up track and field a few years later. The Strathroy native preferred track and specialized in the 1000m, 1500m and the 3000m at the beginning of high school. A few years later, after multiple meets and constant training, the brutality of the sport wore down Hick’s body and love for his craft. Recurrent stress fractures and running-related injuries left Hick frustrated, as the middle-distance runner stepped away from cross-country and track and field in his senior year of high school.

At 19, following his exit from the sport, Hick got a tattoo that had the potential to rekindle his love of running. On his left calf, Hick has a skeleton foot and wings of Hermes, the ancient Greek God of travel. Hermes was known to utilize his unparalleled speed and agility to carry messages to the other Olympic gods and goddesses.

Hick explains that he “wanted a tattoo that was unique from the average cleat running shoe that many track athletes have.”

Even though Hick’s attachment to the sport was on hold, he wanted a reminder of why he loved running. At first, the tattoo did not have such an effect.

“At the time, I regretted it. It was a drawing on my leg that reminded me of something that I was no longer a part of. And instead, it was a constant reminder of something I used to be good at.”

When the injuries subsided in the summer before his third year of university, Hick decided he was going to try out for the Lancer Cross Country and Track and Field team. His change in perspective was inspired by his older brother, Jeremy Hick, alumni from the Lancer Track and Field program.

“I saw how much he was invested and devoted to the Lancer family,” says Hick. “I thought to myself, ‘I used to be good at this’. I wanted more for myself and more out of my University degree than a piece of paper. So I worked my butt off and finalized my spot on the team in 2017.”

Hick explains that his love for his tattoo has been reborn, taking on a deeper meaning. It showcases his prevailing love for the sport and his perseverance to get to where he is today as a varsity athlete. Currently injured, Hick hopes to run at Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship, and stay healthy so as to be able to compete next year and use up his final year of eligibility.

Meg Mooney

An energetic Meg Mooney uses running to bond with her mom through their shared love of cross-country and track and field. Mooney’s mom was not only her inspiration to run but was also a huge supporter of her daughter’s decision to get inked.

“My family is obsessed with tattoos,” Mooney says. “My parents were not surprised at all when I asked them if I could get one.”

Running since Grade Three, Mooney is making her debut as a rookie on the Windsor Lancers cross-country team. Adding enthusiasm to a young team, Mooney explains that she came to Windsor mainly due to the hype of the rookie experience and the prestigious reputation the Lancers have of being one of the best running teams in the OUA.

Much like Hick’s tattoo, Mooney’s ink, position on her left ankle, is Hermes’ wing.

“When I am 80 years old,” says Mooney, “I want a reminder that this (running) is an important part of who I am.”

Combined in one, Mooney’s tattoo represents not only her passion for running but also her family, as her mother is a former competitive runner. Looking down at her wing, Mooney says that it is a symbol of speed that helps her stay motivated during long and exhausting races.

Shawn Hunter

Shawn Hunter, a goaltender on the Men’s Soccer team, admits that his interest in coaching positively influenced his motivation to play. A friend he coached was returning to Europe to play soccer. His Euro-bound pal was looking for someone to train with over the summer and to stand in goal for him so he was able to practice his finishing.

Hunter capitalized on this opportunity to spend time with his friend before his departure and his friend urged him to start training seriously and try out for the local college team. The new netminder fell in love with the sport.

“I continue to play this game in University because nothing makes me happier,” Hunter says. “When you go out to play or train or spend time with your teammates all of those problems go away.”

Hunter got his first tattoo is on his left upper arm when he was 20. On the surface, the black and white tattoo with a hint of blue is very simple: a lion and a soccer ball. Concealed within the design, however, is a variety of personal metaphors. The lion was chosen not only because it is Hunter’s favourite animal but much like goaltending, a lion is in a position of power and control. Goaltenders are the only players able to use their hands, giving them dominance on the field.

“It is our responsibility (as goaltenders) to keep the players in front of us in check and organized. Much like that of the lion who must keep the other lions in his pride focused to reach their full potential and remain on top of the food chain.”

A lion also represents courage, which is a quality that Hunter’s uses to describe his father, the person who has influenced much of the way he plays soccer. Hunter explains that through all the adversity his father has faced in this life, his father understands one can only change the factors they can control and his son has carried this optimistic perspective whenever he is between the goal posts.

Hunter acknowledges that as a goalkeeper, you will face shots that you can’t save. “He (Hunter’s father) has taught me in life not to worry about the things I have no control over. And to me that's an ultimate sign of courage, knowing you still very well may fail but that should not stop you from going out and trying to do your best.

With the season nearing its end, Hunter expressed that his personal goal is to always be the best version of himself whether that is on the field, bench or in the press-box doing game-day video.

Recently, there has been an emerging controversy with professional athletes and the ink on their body. In the National Basketball Association (NBA), athletes are being forced to cover their ink if there is any relation to the brand who is not a partnered sponsor.

When the athletes were asked on their opinion on this happening, Mooney gently explained that “It’s their (the athletes) body, if that is what they want to represent, it’s an individual choice and it is how they choose to express themselves. If that brand has meaning to them, then they should be allowed to demonstrate it.”

Hick, on the other hand, chuckled with a bit of frustration and firmly stated that “Tattoos are a sense of expression, if it has meaning to that individual, no one else should care.”

Final Notes

Collectively, all of the varsity athletes agreed that as long as the tattoos were not offensive, they were harmless. As a group, the opinions on the matter were consistent, they all stood by the athletes and believed that it is absurd that they are being forced to cover it up.

With tattoos visible in the mainstream, permanently marking one’s body holds meaning beyond tribal rituals and prison alliances. Inking ourselves is an expression of individuality, and the amount of individuals who are willing to risk the pain for the permanent ink is drastically surging.

Varsity athletes are willing to devote every moment of their free time to their respective sport. The journey’s not always easy and demands commitment. These Lancer athletes try to leave a permanent mark on their sport and, for some, their love of sport has left a permanent mark on them – literally.

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