Erica Gavel may be suiting up for Team Canada, but the former Huskies women’s basketball player will never forget her University of Saskatchewan roots.
Gavel played with the U of S Huskies women’s basketball team for three years before injuries began to derail her career.
After multiple comeback attempts were hindered by additional setbacks, she began playing wheelchair basketball. What followed has been a lesson in gratitude and an unflinching dedication to the sport she loves.
Thanks to her natural talent and strong work ethic, it wasn’t long before Gavel was getting noticed on the court. She garnered the attention of the head coach of the University of Alabama’s wheelchair basketball team and was invited to attend the school during the 2013-14 academic year on a full scholarship. Leaving the U of S wasn’t easy but it was something she needed to do in order to improve.
The move has paid off, as Gavel was named to the Canadian Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball Team on Jan. 13, 2014. Now, looking back over her journey, Gavel has gained a lot of perspective.
“I am extremely grateful and thankful I had to go through all that stuff,” she said. “At the time it was really hard for me and it was really emotionally and mentally draining to have to deal with [injuries] for roughly two and a half years.”
Gavel attributes the support she received from those around her with helping her through the difficult time.
“As hard as it was, the amount of support I received from the University of Saskatchewan, Lisa [Thomaidis], Brad [Craven], they definitely made that experience doable and put me in the best situation to achieve both on and off the court,” she said. “I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
Success didn’t come immediately for Gavel. When she moved to Alabama she knew there were many things she still needed to work on. Training and playing regularly with a team gave Gavel the opportunity to hone her skills and she took full advantage of the opportunity.
“Coming into this season I needed to improve everywhere,” she said. “I really needed to improve on my left hand, finishing underneath the basket as well as dribbling.
“I came down here with two main goals and that was to make the most out of my basketball as well as make the most of my academics. I exceeded my expectations in both. I’m extremely happy with how things have gone first semester.”
When it came time to tryout for the national team, Gavel didn’t let the occasion overwhelm her but took it as another learning opportunity.
“When I went to the tryouts, I went there excited to perform versus being scared I was going to get cut,” she said. “I really believe going in with that mentality took a lot of pressure off of me and I ended up peaking when I needed to… I just focused on what I needed to do.”
When she learned she had made the team, Gavel was overwhelmed.
“For the first few days I was speechless, I really didn’t know what to say about the accomplishment,” she said. “To be told you are a part of a national team is just super overwhelming and it’s really unbelievable. It’s a dream come true to represent your sport at the highest level.”
Gavel has learned to focus on the moment and is taking things in stride since making the national team, but there is one big goal she’s looking towards: the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“As of right now I feel like I have the right people, the right knowledge and the perfect training program to get there,” she said. “All I really need to do is just keep doing what I’m doing.”
Her playing career has the chance to take her all over the world but Gavel will always call Saskatoon home and takes any chance she can to return to her roots.
“When I come home during my breaks I really look forward to coming back to the [Physical Activity Complex] and training and catching up with everyone,” she said. “It will always have a special place in my heart. I hope to live in Saskatoon when I’m done here and continue my wheelchair career training out of Saskatoon.”
Gavel is quick to point out that there are many people who helped her succeed and doesn’t shy away from sharing the glory.
“All the profs, all my coaches, all my teammates, all the supporting staff — everyone contributed to where I am today and I’ll be forever thankful and grateful for all of them.”
Her sporting career didn’t pan out the way she thought it would, but Gavel’s ability to adapt to new situations and overcome challenges has allowed her to excel in a way she never dreamed. Despite the adversity, she refused to give up on the sport she loved.
Photo: Wheelchair Basketball Canada