A family affair: How UBC students fall in love with sports

Sports communities are some of the biggest and most prominent fan communities across the world, transcending borders and languages.

But for many sports fans, their love of sports first bloomed in their childhood homes.

‘Anything is possible.’

Cesar Martinez was six years old when he found a sticker album tucked under a classroom bookshelf. A photo of a gleaming silver trophy and a patch of stars curved like the roof of a soccer stadium under a midnight blue sky was on the cover.

Martinez had found a copy of the 2008/09 official Champions League sticker collection. As he paged through it, the first player he saw was a blue-eyed brunette from FC Barcelona — number five.

“Who is this guy?” He wondered. “Is he any good?”

He showed the sticker to his friend and got his answer: Carles Puyol, Barcelona’s team captain from 2004 to 2014, was in fact quite good. Martinez held onto that fact all the way home. When he finally arrived, he announced to his family that from that day onwards, they were officially Barcelona fans.

But loving soccer wasn’t just something Martinez stumbled into after picking up that sticker album; it ran in the family. Martinez’s father loved soccer — he knew all things Lionel Messi and was all aboard when Martinez said he wanted to be a Barcelona fan.

“We’ll be Barcelona fans if you say so,” Martinez recalled his father saying.

Sixteen years later and in his third year at Sauder, Martinez is still a soccer fan. He has stayed loyal to Barcelona over the years and has developed a particular fondness for Messi, a former Barcelona soccer player, the captain of the Argentina national team and current forward for Paris Saint-Germain F.C.

But for Martinez, watching soccer wasn’t only a family pastime but also a way to learn life lessons, like resilience.

Messi’s World Cup loss in 2014 was heartbreaking for Martinez. Argentina was a favourite to win, especially as Messi was becoming a household name. The team made it to the final, only to lose to Germany 1–0 in extra time.

But it wasn’t the end.

Eight years later, Messi returned to the finals with a new team and won the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The passion he brought to the field and the hope he brought to his country was “magnificent,” Martinez said.

This fighting spirit shaped Martinez’s response to getting waitlisted for Sauder during his first year. He was accepted into UBCO but was determined to transfer.

“The first thing I did was [say] ‘Okay, how am I going to stand up, turn this around and get this to happen?’”

Even beyond Messi, soccer is full of optimistic resilience.

“You hear all the stories about how every player becomes professional … it is a really simple game,” said Martinez. “But at the same time, it’s so competitive.”

“There’s kids all around the world wanting to play professional[ly] in any division,” he said. These kids run into numerous obstacles throughout their career, yet so many persevere and become the players that fans like Martinez spend their whole lives looking up to.

“It gives you a reason to believe that anything’s possible,” he said.

Skating toward your dreams

Third-year sociology student Cassandra Zhang fell in love with figure skating in 2018 while watching Yuzuru Hanyu, a now-retired Japanese figure skater, during the peak of his career.

It was Chinese New Year. Zhang was in the living room with her family, watching the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games — a monumental occasion as Hanyu broke the Olympic records for both the men’s short program score and combined total score. His performance made him the youngest man since 1948 to win two consecutive Olympic gold medals.

“I was quite shocked by the performance,” said Zhang. “He was really amazing.”

After that day, Zhang was hooked — she started watching Hanyu’s previous performances. His dedication, passion and polite attitude along with his undeniable skill and artistry earned him Zhang’s respect and admiration.

She became invested in figure skating as a whole and even dedicated her high school graduate paper to analyzing the flaws in the new international judging system introduced during the 2018–2019 season.

Zhang actively tries to emulate Hanyu’s dedication — “He’s trying to put all his efforts [into] skating and improving himself,” she said.

When Zhang decided to pick up skating herself last year, she struggled to keep herself upright. Each time she fell over, she thought of Hanyu while picking herself back up again. His devotion to his work not only inspired Zhang to polish her own figure skating skills but also to adopt a more hardworking attitude in other areas of her life, including her academics.

Love for speed

Carolyne You is a second-year immunology and microbiology student and member of the women’s rowing team, but she was born a Formula One (F1) fan — albeit a casual one. The sparse sports scene during the pandemic is what brought her closer to F1.

“It was the only sport that was on,” she said with a chuckle. “I was stuck at home and there were only so many books that I could read.”

But You’s love for speed didn’t just start because of COVID-19. You’s mother was in the medical crew for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montréal during the ‘90s. She stepped down before giving birth to You and her brother, but the love for speed stayed in the family.

You developed an attachment to Mercedes-AMG Petronas and their seven-time world champion driver, Lewis Hamilton, while watching F1 during the start of the pandemic. Hamilton has been with Mercedes since 2013 and You had the chance to meet him at the 2022 Canadian Grand Prix in Montréal last June — a full circle moment for her family.

As a varsity rower, teamwork is a crucial aspect of her sport. You looks to Hamilton’s partnership with Mercedes as an example of effective collaboration. She admires Hamilton himself and views him as a model for good sportsmanship and humility.

“He doesn’t take credit for everything,” she said. “He always goes back to his team and makes sure they get the credit as well.”

Down to the wire

Soccer, figure skating and F1 became family affairs for Martinez, Zhang and You. Although being a fan is individual, their love and passion for sports will be a connection that stays with them throughout their lives.

— With files from Iman Janmohamed