ABBOTSFORD — For about as long as she can remember, Sarah Parker has felt a calling to capture moments in time.
Whether as still life or moving pictures, she very quickly understood the effect images could have on the imagination, and how later, as an elite-level U Sports soccer player, the inspirational power they carried.
“I love how people can feel when they can re-live moments through pictures, as if they are still happening” explains Parker, 22, a media arts major and fourth-year striker with the Fraser Valley Cascades. “I can remember back in high school, I was that person who was always being asked ‘Why are you taking so many pictures, so many videos.’”
Yet until the figurative universe called this past spring with an offer she simply could not refuse, the Surrey native and Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary grad openly admits her imagination wasn’t expansive enough to even conceive a way to meld the two great passions of her life into anything resembling a potential profession.
So how is it that over nothing more than a mere handful of months, in the midst of the global pandemic, that Parker has not only a newfound sense of clarity with regards to her post-secondary career path, but also, for all intents and purposes, a gold medal for her part in helping the Canadian women’s national team win soccer gold at the recently-completed Tokyo Summer Olympics?
Coming off the Canada West’s cancelled season in the fall of 2020, and hoping to eventually create a professional playing opportunity for herself overseas, the Surrey United product had a few end-goals in mind as it pertained to both soccer and visual media, yet she still hadn’t been able to connect the dots as it pertained to an overall plan.
Then, one day when she was least expecting it, her phone rang.
THIS IS THE WORLD CALLING
“I looked down at my phone and it showed ‘Jasmine Mander,’” recalls Parker, familiar with the name as a former UBC Thunderbirds midfielder whom she had competed against during her 2017 freshman campaign at Fraser Valley.
“I thought ‘Why is she calling me?,’” continued Parker. “All I could think was that she was calling me to ask me about the degree (in media arts) that I was taking, and that just blew me away because nobody ever calls me to talk about that. My student-advisor even said they never had an athlete in the program. So it was crazy when she called and started asking me questions about it.”
Yet Parker soon discovered that Mander was actually calling in her capacity as performance analyst with the Canadian women’s national soccer team, one leaving no stone unturned in its quest for the most complete preparation process possible along its journey towards a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Entrusted with putting together a remote team consisting of a handful of analysts, each bringing their own unique brand of skills to the table, Mander immediately realized that the combination of Parker’s classroom and on-field experience made her just the kind of candidate to provide the motivational videos the team would use as part of their pre-match preparations.
“Jasmine had a real idea of what she wanted for her remote analysis team, and a part of that was that she wanted someone specifically in media arts, but also someone who knew the game and had played it at a high level,” said Parker.
“Right away, I was speechless,” she added. “I was not expecting her to ask me, and as soon as she told me what the job entailed, I was like ‘This is right up my alley.’”
FROM UFV TO JAPAN: INSPIRATION VIA VIDEO
Working for her own country’s national team, some of whom she had previously either trained or travelled with during the youth portion of her career with either Surrey United or the Whitecaps’ program, and doing it all on behalf of what we all now know was an eventual run to the gold medal, was for her at times surreal to say the last.
“My mom kept reminding me ‘Do you know what you’re doing? You’re actually helping the film team,’” Parker recalled last week, the tone of incredulity in her voice some three weeks later a reminder of how profound her experience was. “And when they won, it just opened so many doors for women’s soccer in Canada. I am just super-excited to see what’s in store.”
Yet perhaps the most unique part of this story is re-tracing the lifelong steps Parker was actually taking towards that day, ones which unbeknownst to her, had her ready for the moment with a job posting whose figurative DNA was a perfect match for her own.
So what exactly where Parker’s job requirements?
“I would say that my job was really about putting the players into the right mental state of helping get them motivated and excited about the next game,” Parker began, before adding: “Then having them keep building their confidence to what they are capable of.”
To that end, as Parker came together with the rest of the remote team, her skills were immediately put to the test.
In early June, before the actual Olympic Games had begun, Parker set about creating individual inspirational videos for each member of the Canadian team, putting custom touches on each through careful research.
And by the time Canada had de-planed for a training camp that month in Spain, one which included friendlies against both the Czech Republic and Brazil, she was finding herself able to put the best parts of her two passions together for the Canadian cause.
Pouring over film clips, Parker produced videos for the Canadian team of their upcoming foes which showed opposition strengths. Then, following matches, she would produce videos of the Canadian team in action, culling unique moments as part of a final cut she felt would best inspire. She admits that having her own experiences as a player to lean on really helped in this process.
“Being a soccer player myself, it was easier for me to put myself in their shoes and ask ‘What would motivate me?,’” she continued. “‘OK, if I was this player, what would get me hyped up and make me motivated for the next game?’”
In that regard, when you take a closer look within the details of her own playing career, Sarah Parker’s path through the soccer delivery system had fortune to intersect with those of some of the national team’s young-and-rising stars.
“When I was younger I did Whitecaps Academy training, like on Saturday mornings, with Julia Grosso,” Parker remembered of the player who scored the penalty-kick winner in the gold medal match against Sweden. “Jordyn (Huitema) also played for Surrey United, and although she was two years younger than me, we were together on road trips. And although I never trained with Jayde (Riviere), I remember seeing her when she came to the national team and got her first minutes. They are going to be such inspiring players, starting off at such a young age with gold medals. But age is just a number. If you have a dream and a goal, it’s all possible.”
Fraser Valley head coach Niko Marcina agrees that Parker’s contributions go beyond the label of simply value-added.
“Every individual has their own way to get themselves excited or get them confident prior to a match or a training session,” explained Marcina, a former UBC varsity player. “We highly encourage reviewing positive footage of previous matches or previous performances in order for players to recall those positive moments. It is such a massive confidence booster going into any game, and I think it’s the difference between having a strong 90 minutes to one of having moments of brilliance.”
A CAREER PATH READY TO BE CARVED WITH CLARITY
Sarah Parker was a true multi-sport athlete throughout her high school career at Lord Tweedsmuir.
Volleyball, track and field, softball, basketball and soccer all competed for her attention.
While the first three all eventually ceded by graduation, she played basketball for the Panthers through her Grade 11 year, hanging up her sneakers just ahead of the school’s 2017 B.C. championship-title run.
Set to enter her fifth year of studies at UFV this fall, she continues to work towards what she hopes will be some kind of professional playing opportunity, either in North America or abroad, while of course continuing to develop her skills and contacts off the field in her pursuit of a media arts career.
In fact when Mander called her this past spring about the national team position, Parker was just getting set to leave for her pro debut in the United Women’s Soccer League with WSC Peoria (Ill.).
Unfortunately, not every step she’s taken these path few months has been smooth and without some pain.
While playing in Illinois, Parker suffered a knee injury, one she has only recently had diagnosed as a torn ACL. Despite the bad news, she maintains hope that she will still be able to join her Cascades’ teammates for some part of a 2021 campaign just now underway.
“We are trying to be as supportive as possible for Sarah,” said Marcina of a player known for her blazing foot speed and the ability to finish with both feet. “There is a slight possibility she might find a way to play (this season) and if that is the case, it will be a massive thing for our offence.
“She can be a phenomenal attacking threat in our style of play and so it’s tough pill to swallow for both our organization and for Sarah, but we’re trying to have a positive spin on this and understand what she can provide on the field,” added the coach. “We hope it’s as a player, but she is also going to be a massive support for her teammates.”
Was there some genuine karma in play here?
For someone so in tune with inspiring others through her work, can she now look to the future and say that her art indeed has begun to imitate her life?
“It’s crazy because honestly, when Jasmine called me and asked me what my dream job was after I got my university degree, I had no idea,” said Parker who is set to graduate this spring. “So when I got offered the job to do these videos, I had no idea this was even an option.”
Almost like it was so great that it was beyond the stuff of her dreams.
“It was seriously unreal,” she says, with hopes she can do more of the same in the future.
Sarah Parker is someone who has always known the power of moments captured in time.
Although her own medal wasn’t exactly presented on a podium in Tokyo, to her there can be no better definition of just such a moment. To her, it’s worth its weight in gold.
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