Jyoti Ruparell, Ryerson Rams, Volleyball
Growing up I was never an athletic kid. It didn’t matter what sport it was, I was always picked or finished last. So, in grade seven I ended up trying out for every school team just for fun and made them, surprising everyone.
I started with volleyball and I fell in love with the team, the sport, and the competition. Throughout my journey to becoming a varsity athlete, I have had to overcome a lot of adversity, some in more ways than others.
“Throughout my journey to becoming a varsity athlete, I have had to overcome a lot of adversity, some in more ways than others.”
Firstly, I wasn't a small kid, I’ve never looked like a stereotypical tall and lean volleyball player. It didn’t bother me until high school, club, and university coaches refused to take me because of the way I looked. As a woman, we have our insecurities, and they are always being pointed out by everyone, but as an athlete, I become even more insecure of my body. The rejection and comments being made, both to my face and behind my back. has always taken a toll on my confidence and self-esteem, but always ended up driving me to become a better player. The labels, rejection, and trash talk got to my head and affected my mental health, but I left those negative feelings behind and kept working towards my goals. I worked harder and smarter on the court, in the gym. Additionally, there are not very many Asian Indian athletes, let alone volleyball players.
“…but I left those negative feelings behind and kept working towards my goals.”
I’ve found that none of my athletic role models have ever represented my culture/background and although they are similar, it was hard to truly get that connection with those role models. Being an Asian Indian role model has always been a goal of mine. It’s not something that’s been very noticeable or is discussed often, but it impacted me growing up.
The last thing that has impacted me is something a lot of people don’t know this about me. I identify as bisexual. I came out to my parents recently, and unlike the stereotypes about Indian families, they have been extremely supportive and it hasn’t changed our relationship at all. It is a part of me that I am finally happy to share because I don’t want to hide from anyone. My sexuality has never affected the way I have played or my life in sports growing up because after dealing with the insecurities, I had a lot of practice suppressing this side of myself.
“It’s a part of me that I am finally happy to share because I don’t want to hide from anyone.”
Now, I’m here, playing for the Ryerson Women’s Varsity Volleyball team. Moving from Alberta was crazy at first because I’ve never loved the idea of living in a city. I came to Toronto mostly for my academic program. The volunteer program was also very important to me as I have worked with organizations such as the Love of Reading Foundation for 10 years, the World Literacy Foundation as an Ambassador for the past few years, and was invited to speak at the World Literacy Summit in Oxford, England.
When I visited campus with my family and Dustin [Reid], it just felt like a second home, which shocked me a little. The girls on the team welcomed me and answered all my questions. I joined a team that was a family, something I had never experienced before. The season was so different from what I had expected. Practices were a perfect balance of focused and fun: getting ready in the locker room listening to music and laughing with the girls, as well as travelling to other gyms and competing every week. For me, it was a big moment showing that all the judgement from other athletes and coaches did not matter. Especially at the beginning of the season, there was a lot of self-doubt, nerves, and anxiety that crept back into my mind and is something I have to work at every day to overcome.
“As long as you believe in yourself just a little, you really can do anything you set your mind to.”
Looking back at my journey, I've learnt a few things. First, don’t let anybody tell you what you should or should not look like to be an athlete, and if they do, they aren’t worth your time. After you heal, use those feelings to make yourself better. Second, you learn many life lessons and skills when you play sports. From determination and teamwork to rejection and triumph, don’t give up on yourself. As long as you believe in yourself just a little, you really can do anything you set your mind to.
I’ve been blessed to have a handful of people as my support system: my parents, especially my mum who has fought for years with her kidney transplant, and sister, a few coaches in Alberta as well as my incredible coaches in California. Now, staff and the girls I play with honestly and sincerely inspire me every single day. We are like a family. We may have our ups and downs, but at the end of the day, we are there for each other both on and off the court. I could not have asked for a better home.
I don’t just play to prove myself to the haters who, yes still exist, but I play for those who have supported me, and most importantly, my Ramily.