Something old. Something new. Something spectacular. Something tried and true.
When it comes to the athletic facilities at the University of Guelph, the seamless combination of tradition with cutting edge technology makes for a one of a kind experience.
Originally opened in 1957, the W.F. Mitchell Athletic Centre remains the focal point for varsity athletes, recreational, instructional and intramural athletes, club and work out activities.
This is where the legendary Gryphons track and field team competes. A dominant force in USports track and field, the Guelph men have won four national titles since 2007-08, while the women have been crowned Canadian champs twice in the same span.
Renovations to the W.F. Mitchell Athletic Centre allow it to maintain its historic legacy, while still catering to the ever-changing sporting landscape. Cardio and weight rooms replaced the two spectator balconies over-looking the main gym. Five international squash courts were constructed where the dressing rooms were at either end of Pygmy Gardens and the original north American squash court have been converted into climbing walls.
Alumni Field, home to the 2015 Yates Cup champion Gryphons football team, features a state of the art synthetic turf football field and newly renovated track. The CFL-sized football field measures 110 yards long and 65 yards wide with 20-yard black and red checkered end zones. In addition, the stadium showcases a brand new video scoreboard. In 2013, Alumni Field served as home to the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats while their new stadium Tim Hortons Field was under construction.
The most recent addition to the world-class facilities on the Guelph campus is the Athletic Centre, a 25,000-square foot fitness complex that features a suspended running track, varsity basketball and volleyball courts, a climbing wall and numerous multi-purpose rooms for fitness and recreation activities. Included are a 2,200-seat event centre, social spaces, concession areas, a merchandise store and new locker rooms.
The popularity of Guelph’s athletic complex is evidenced in the interest displayed in its many facilities. Since November, the 150 spheres of the new Guelph Gryphons Athletic Centre have been viewed 15,500 times, a clear sign that a Google Virtual Tour will bring eyeballs and attention to your facility.
Raymond Kusch intends to do the impossible, and while that might seem a tall order, Kusch is not a man whose perseverance and dedication you should doubt.
A sergeant in the U.S. Army who served combat tours with the Third Infantry Division in both Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009-12, Kusch is a gritty, determined winger for the Michigan Warriors who makes up for what he lacks with a never say die determination.
The first thing that you notice Kusch is lacking is his left leg. On a night time patrol in Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2012, Kusch scaled a wall, When Kusch landed on the other side of the wall, he stepped right on a pressure plate and his leg was blown off.
It’s for people like Kusch that Josh Krajewski founded the Michigan Warriors hockey team, a club comprised entirely of wounded war veterans.
A U.S. Army Specialist who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2005-09, Krajewski, whose wounds included a back injury and tinnitus of the ear, as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, sought an outlet to make him feel normal again once he got home from war, as well as something that offered the same sort of mutual bonding he’d shared with fellow soldiers in the military.
He found it on the ice.
“I really needed some kind of outlet for my PTSD, the anxiety of being home and being out of the service,” Krajewski explained. “So I picked up ice hockey and immediately fell in love with the game. It’s hard not to.”
Krajewski was surprised to discover that there was no wounded warriors hockey program in Michigan, so he reached out to teams in other states for advice and launched a club in Michigan. Slowly, players began showing up for ice time – about a dozen regulars at first, but soon, it blossomed. Now, they sign up five or six new players a month, and there are ice times available for wounded veterans in Detroit, Saginaw, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids.
The long-range plan is to get 10 centers up and running, allowing them the organize their own veterans hockey league.
Several of the skaters, including Krajewski and Kusch, had never played the game before.
“After I lost my leg I tried skating and I was like Bambi on ice,” Kusch said. “I was stuck to the boards. It was painful, because my stump was going wrong with my prosthetic. It was just a terrible experience.
“That was one of the few things that I’d written off, that as an amputee I’d never be able to do.”
Kusch works at the Student Veterans Resource Center at University of Michigan-Flint. He got to talking about the Detroit Red Wings with a fellow employee, and soon was invited out to skate with the Warriors.
“At first, it was the same thing,” Kusch said. “Bambi on ice. I was scared. They had a couple of professional coaches and they really built up my confidence.
“Within five-10 minutes they had me off of the supports and I was skating around, chasing a puck. I was addicted from there. Now I go to as many skates as I can. Every day I’m building my confidence, seeing myself get better and better. There’s nothing more satisfying than taking something I had written off, saying I’d never be able to do, and now thinking not only can I do it, but I can do it well.”
The players on the Warriors roster describe their weekly ice time as 60-minute therapy sessions.
“The moment that someone new walks into the locker room, they’re a brother to us. We take him in as family,” Krajewski said.
Only a couple of the players knew each other while in the service but they instantly bond in the locker room through their shared life experience, experiences they’d much rather not share with those they love the most.
“You don’t want your family to feel the negative things that you’re feeling,” Jason Gomez said.
A Sergeant in the U.S. Army who served three tours to Baghdad, Gomez was wounded when an improvised explosive device detonated under the vehicle he was riding in. Thrown off the vehicle by the concussion of the explosion, Gomez landed on his tailbone, crushing several vertebrae and leaving him with partial paralysis of the right leg.
“It’s not that you shut your family out,” Gomez added. “You withdraw, you’re more quiet. You don’t want to hurt them with what’s hurting you.”
When Krajewski encouraged Gomez to come out and suit up, he was initially reluctant.
“I pondered it,” Gomez recalled. “I was dealing with depression, survivor’s guilt, PTSD, physical injuries.You’re listening to what you’re being told that you’ll never be able to do this again, that you’ll never be able to do that again.
“Listening to Josh, my wife (Theresa) finally said, ‘You need to try it.’ And I did.”
He’s never looked back.
“This has done nothing but bring families together,” Gomez said. “It helps bring back that camaraderie of the brotherhood/sisterhood. It’s bringing in the veterans to feel part of a team movement again, to feel that camaraderie and to once again have the confidence to get back out.”
As hard as it might seem to think that people with the bravery and courage to serve in the military, stand in harm’s way and face up to the horrors of combat would be in need of a shot of courage, that’s exactly what these men insist playing hockey together has injected into their bloodstream.
The bond of chasing a puck together around the ice has once more instilled within them the ability to get out there and live life again, to pursue their dreams and turn them into reality.
“You don’t realize it but before long, you’re doing things in the public that you never done before when you’ve got out of the military,” Gomez said. “People have come out of that shell.
“I sat around depressed for years, thinking it was all over. You have a sense of self pride again.”
For Kusch, the difference in his approach to things since he took up hockey a scant six weeks ago is like night and day.
“I’ve played football, baseball – I’ve played it all – and there is just no other sport like this,” Kusch said. “The exhilaration, the rush and the fact that I’m doing it with my brothers from combat arms, there’s a camaraderie here that I’ve never experienced before.
“I couldn’t imagine myself getting the courage to go out for a beer league. Being an amputee, there’s a mental barrier there. Man, I don’t want to mess these guys up. These guys don’t care about that. Even when I mess up, getting the camaraderie from my guys saying ‘You did alright,’ there’s nothing like it.”
Buoyed by their belief in him, Kusch is making the impossible happen.
“I’m skating backwards, I’m doing crossovers, I’m doing one-legged stops,” he said. “I can’t stop on my prosthetic – yet.”
He puts a hard emphasis on that last word.
“I’ve talked to other amputee skaters and they say it’s difficult if not impossible but my goal is to change that,” Kusch said.
Defense has been the story for the Michigan Wolverines this season, and as they face their toughest test of the Big Ten campaign, a road trip to Penn State to face the No. 2 Nittany Lions, Jim Harbaugh, coach of the 17th-ranked Wolverines, is confident they will carry the day yet again.
“The defense is playing really well, and then you start to stack up some of the things they’ve done in terms of limiting teams in total yards,” Harbaugh explained. “There’s a stat there that we’re one of 10 teams that have allowed 280 yards or less in their first six ballgames since 2000.
“There’s the most punts against us of any team in college football this year. The three and outs. The turnovers, the interceptions. Some really great things.”
Michigan rates first in the nation in defense, allowing 223.8 yards per game. The Wolverines are No. 1 in third down conversions allowed (20.5 percent) and pass efficiency defense, third in pass defense (138 yards per game) and sixth in stopping the run (85.8 yards per game).
With 10 of 11 starters gone from last season’s defensive lineup, most experts expected Michigan to take a step back this season on the defensive side of the ball. Instead, the Wolverines have proven to be punishing and stifling.
Harbaugh wasn’t certain about how his defense would stack up this season, and to be honest, he didn’t give it a lot of thought.
“I don’t put that kind of expectation on it,” Harbaugh said. “If you put an expectation of where you think you’re going to be, you limit the upside.
“Instead, let’s have at it. Let’s better every day. Better today than yesterday. Better tomorrow than today. It’s a simple formula.
“We thought we’d be good. Coach Brown (defensive coordinator Don Brown) thought we’d be good and our players thought we’d be good. We’re playing good and improving.”
The 6-0 Nittany Lions will throw wrinkles at the defense of the 5-1 Wolverines that they’ve yet to see this season, led by Heisman Trophy contender Saquon Barkley at running back and elusive quarterback Trace McSorley.
“We’ll need a team effort defensively as we go against a great player and a really outstanding offense – great quarterback, great receivers, line and backs, hitting on all cylinders,” Harbaugh said. “Guys are excited for that test.”
Stopping the versatile Barkley might be too much to ask of any defense. Containing his chunk plays will be the key to Michigan’s gameplan.
“He can catch the ball out of the backfield,” Harbaugh said. “He can run all the assortment of runs – inside the tackles, on the edge. He’s a very good pass protector.
“He is a multi-purpose back that can do everything well.”
Heading to Beaver Stadium, one of college football’s most intimidating locales, will be another challenge placed in the path of the young Wolverines.
“I’m excited about it,” Harbaugh said. “I feel like the players would feel the same way, excited for the opportunity. They’ve been on the big stage already this year multiple times in big games and have another crack at it.
“Knowing our guys the way I do, they’re competitors. I feel they’d be excited.”
There were no Pinky And The Brain moments along Kylie Masse’s journey from obscurity to international celebrity, Olympian and world champion.
When people asked about her goals a few years back, when she didn’t even rate a spot among the top 200 female backstroke swimmers in the world, Masse wouldn’t pronounce that she was intent on trying to take over the world.
No, she set bar much at a much lower level.
Her objective? To get better every day. To constantly continue her improvement as a competitive swimmer.
“You’re always trying to take that next step and keep improving,” Masse explained as to her daily ritual when she awoke early each morning before the sun rose to trek to the pool and put in her laps, a level of commitment then known only to those closest to her.
“It’s just progress, keeping up with training, getting back in the water after each race and doing different things to try and be the best that I can.”
Her mission led the 20-year-old swimmer from LaSalle, Ont. to that spot she never allowed herself to realistically envision in 2014 when she was ranked 201st in the world – to No. 1 on the planet, the fastest female 100-metre backstroke swimmer that’s ever jumped in a pool.
When Masse won her signature event at the FINA World Aquatic Championships in Budapest, Hungary, she not only became the first Canadian female to win a world title, she did so in world-record fashion, stopping the clock at 58.10 seconds, snapping the mark of 58.12 that had stood since 2009.
To encompass the rapid rise of Masse from unknown to the best there’s ever been can seem mind-boggling. More significantly, it is not only inspirational, but also reaffirming that anyone with a goal in front of them can achieve the seemingly impossible if they are willing to put in the time and effort that it requires in order to make that journey.
“I think that’s something I think about a lot,” Masse admitted. “I wasn’t really an on-the-radar athlete. I kind of came from nowhere and improved pretty quickly.
“I think that can give a lot of people hope and inspiration.”
Masse first gained notice in university, where she won several national titles and set USport records competing for the Toronto Varsity Blues. But that still was a long reach from there to international acclaim and Olympic status.
The latter came in 2016, when she earned a spot on the Canadian Olympic team and won a bronze medal at the Rio Summer Games in the 100 backstroke, setting a Canadian record in the process.
Masse wasn’t just on the radar. She was in orbit.
“I think when I made the Olympic team that was kind of an eye-opening experience for me and obviously a dream to make that Olympic team,” Masse said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I made the team. Let’s see what I can do.’”
What she has done is take the swimming world by storm and show that as long as you have a passion for something and are willing to keep chipping away at the task in front of you, dreams do come true.
“You don’t have to be going to certain meets and doing certain times at certain ages,” Masse said. “If you set a goal and you have a dream and you keep working hard, you can accomplish it.”
Every day, she took those baby steps, and all that dedication, sacrifice and work ethic eventually led her to take the most significant step of all.