[S]itting in a Swiss Chalet in Sudbury, our coach, Charles Kissi, gave us the news that Sandy Pothier had passed away.
The menus blurred as tears rushed to my eyes, and the eyes of 13 of my closest friends.
After 18 years battling on the court as head coach of the Ryerson Rams women’s basketball team, Sandy Pothier faced a much tougher battle off it. For 22 months she courageously fought, but cancer was one opponent she could not best. Sandy lost the battle to cancer on January 21, 2012.
Not only did Sandy bring the program at Ryerson from the bottom to the top, ending her coaching career with the best season that Ryerson’s women’s team has ever recorded, she helped young girls grow into young women.
That’s where I come in. I was in the last rookie class that was fortunate enough to be coached by such an amazing and inspiring woman.
My father, Rob Wright had been an assistant coach with Sandy for six years. “She was a great mentor. She earned her team’s respect because she would never ask players to do anything she wasn’t willing to do herself,” he says. Sandy was there for me before I had even thought about committing to any school. She put me through workouts, talked to me about school and I was always excited to see her.
It wasn’t until my first practice as a Ryerson Ram that I would understand Sandy’s passion for the sport.
I was late getting to practice and the veterans had already begun scrimmaging. As I sat on the sideline lacing up my shoes, Sandy’s yelling made me look up. “Come on, ladies! You need a 45-year-old to show you how to play?”, she shouted, as she took off her track pants to reveal the bright blue shorts underneath. She subbed a player off and began playing with the group of 20-something, high level athletes.
Sandy amazed me when she stepped on that court. Her players went through extensive training all year long and still Sandy was outdoing the young women she was competing against. She was outrunning them, out-muscling them and she was scoring on them at will. This moment would later come to define Sandy; She is the most competitive person that I have ever met, with a feisty and determined character. Her competitive fire was contagious.
My first year at Ryerson University, like any student, was a big change, and Sandy was there for me every single day. I remember sitting in her dark, cramped office and talking to her at least twice a week, she knew how to make everything better. The way she spoke gave me confidence, I can remember thinking, “Wow, this woman really believes in me.” Sandy’s kindness and genuine heart made all her players want to do well, just to make her proud. She was always willing to teach you how to be better, even if it meant, with her help, your skills would overmatch hers.
Sandy began her post-secondary basketball career at Dalhousie University, where she made the team as a freshman. After her second year at Dalhousie, Sandy took her talents to the other side of the country to the University of Victoria, where she won her first national championship.
Driving through Vancouver with Sandy during a preseason tournament in my first year at Ryerson, she reminisced about the summer after her first year playing in Victoria. She had gone back to her hometown of St.Catherines, Ontario, for the summer, and she would call her teammates everyday to ask them what training they were doing. I remember Sandy saying, “If they said they were going for a five kilometer run, I’d go for a 10 kilometer run.”
We all laughed with her about her drive, passion and determination, but truthfully, we were all envious. Sandy did everything to the best of her ability.
Sandy continued her basketball success playing professionally in Germany before retiring to coach there.
When she finally found herself back in Canada, the basketball community embraced her with open arms. Not only did she become the head coach of the Ryerson Rams, but during the summer Sandy worked with the provincial and national team programs.
The last year of Sandy’s life was no less adventurous. She was determined, as she was with everything else, to not let cancer stop her. She travelled to Vancouver, Prince Edward Island, Germany, Italy, Mexico and Peru. In Peru, she climbed Machu Picchu, despite her traveling partners advising her against it.
Visiting Sandy in the hospital, she told me the story about Machu Picchu. Her friends began to climb the mountain without her because they told her it wasn’t safe for someone in her condition. She stayed at the base looking up in envy. But because Sandy was Sandy, if someone said she couldn’t do it, she would use everything she had in her to prove them wrong. After a while, she thought, “If they can do it, I can do it. I’m not going to let lung cancer stop me,” so she headed up the steep, winding stairs that were barely wide enough to fit a person’s foot. Sandy dug deep and her determination kicked in as she met her friends at the top of the 2,430 meter high mountain.
After Sandy’s passing, Ryerson sewed ‘SP’ patches on both the men’s and women’s jerseys to forever remember the significant role Sandy played in the development of the Ryerson Rams athletic programs.
Playing with Sandy’s name over our hearts reminds us to play with her passion every time we put on our jerseys. We have vowed to play to make her proud and continue the growth, progression and success that Sandy had worked so hard to accomplish both on and off the court.
Sandy Pothier spent eighteen years as the head coach of the Ryerson Rams Women’s Basketball team, the longest in the team’s history. Pothier passed away on January 21, 2012 after a two-year battle with cancer at the age of 50.
Kelcey Wright, Journalism ’13