Hitting a home run for Indigenous youth

By Maia Odegaard, Marketing and Communications
Photo by David Denofreo

For Sport Science student Sahara Tom, softball has been a part of her life since before she was born – her father has been an umpire for over 25 years – and it continues to influence her career path today.

Sahara followed her older sister Garaline to Douglas College so she could study Sport Science partly because she’d heard wonderful things about the program and the College learning environment, but also because of her passion for sports. Ultimately, her experience with treatment for sports injuries helped her decide on a career as a kinesiologist.

“Sports have been a large part of my life, and have given me countless memories and opportunities to better myself as an athlete and as a person,” she says. “Through my years of playing sports, I have also encountered countless injuries, and have gone through countless hours of various types of rehabilitation, and found kinesiology to be one of the most effective and beneficial.”

Many of us are familiar with chiropractors – Sahara’s original career goal – and even physiotherapists, but few may understand the work performed by a kinesiologist.

Sahara explains, “Kinesiologists work more with a workout base. They try to find ways to strengthen your whole body. The kinesiologist I work with makes sure that my body is able to do the basic movements before building off of everything. Whereas, I’ve been through a lot of physio where they only address the specific injury.”

 “I’ve been playing softball since I was about five, so coming up on 16 years now,” says Sahara. “I grew up in Nanaimo playing softball and when I was 14, I start playing in the All Native Nationals.”

Her passion for softball doesn’t end there: Sahara is also focused on coaching other young softball enthusiasts. She’s run a softball camp at her reserve in Burns Lake, B.C., and she plans to continue working to bring kids from different Indigenous communities together to play softball. To this end, she has even applied to coach the 2020 Teen B.C. softball team for the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).

“I love the whole idea of NAIG because they bring a lot of tradition back into Indigenous sports. I think that’s really important to bring more of that into B.C.,” says Sahara. “Growing up, my sister and I also played All Native Basketball and that experience connected us with a lot of other communities.” This was especially important to her as neither of her parents are from Nanaimo.

Sahara also wants to work more closely with ISPARC, the Indigenous Sports, Physical Activity & Recreation Council, as they provide those in Indigenous communities with different sporting opportunities, and are responsible for organizing Team B.C. for NAIG.

“Last year I took some NCCP – the National Coaching Certification Program – modules for different coaching techniques and I got to know Rick Benson, the Executive Director of Softball B.C.,” says Sahara. “The Aboriginal coaching module emphasized the fact that a lot of reservations don’t have the equipment needed to continue playing after we leave, so after telling Rick about my goals, he offered to partner with me and sent some equipment for us to use for the camp.”

Now in her fourth year of study at Douglas, Sahara is close to realizing her dreams. Once she completes her Bachelor of Physical Education and Coaching, she plans to register with the B.C. Association of Kinesiologists and continue coaching within the Indigenous communities. And, in her spare time? “I want to play a lot of softball. I’d also like to travel to New Zealand – they have amazing softball teams there. If I could somehow find a way to play softball in New Zealand, that would be truly amazing!

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