“I started my athletic career with swimming and track when I was seven years old,” says Fathema Shaikh, a fourth-year biology specialist at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM). Scouted to play for the UTM women’s basketball team years later, Shaikh is the only one in her family to play competitive sports. “[This] was sometimes challenging, as no one else resonated with my journey,” she shares.
Despite misunderstandings, Shaikh remembers the love her family had showed her—the current motivation behind her drive for basketball. “From holding my hands and walking me to practice, driving hours for my away games, screaming in the stands [and] cheering me on, and lecturing me when I played bad on the drive back home. […] I appreciate them more than words can describe,” she says.
In her first year at UTM, Shaikh developed her athletic skills under the instruction of, in her words, “some amazing seniors and coaches.” Today, she is captain of the tri-campus women’s basketball team. “As each year passed, I found myself becoming more and more confident in that I played up to my truest potential and led my team in various ways,” she shares.
Shaikh, however, did not necessarily have the smoothest sport trajectory in university. Pushing through four back-to-back injuries, she missed games in her last season. “For someone who never missed a game due to injuries in the last 13 years, this took a toll on me, not just physically but also mentally,” Shaikh recounts the struggle of her rehabilitation journey. “At a point, you’re close to giving up, going through a cycle of self-doubt and underplaying all your efforts.”
Finding support in her coach, athletic therapists, and teammates, Shaikh learned the importance of personal care. “They had me smiling throughout and helped me discern many lessons […] I’ve learned to remain patient and strong, keep my head up, and continually push myself to come back stronger each time, because at the end of the day, everything happens for a reason.”
What is Shaikh’s best memory of playing for UTM? “Leading my team into an overtime game winner while dropping a season high of 26 points,” she says. As for what the future holds, Shaikh has no professional goals related to basketball, though she “would love to continue to play in fun competitive leagues even after graduating.”
To students who wish to get involved in sports, Shaikh advises: “Just show up and do your best. Whether it is to have fun at drop-ins, or tryout for competitive teams, giving yourself a chance is better than doubting your abilities and limiting that growth. You open yourself to a plethora of opportunities if you just give yourself a chance and step out of your comfort zone.” Spoken like a true leader, both on and off the court.