Faatimah, or as her teammates call her Fatti, is in her last year of eligibility to play with the Rams. This has been a challenging season for her I think due to recurring injuries with one of her hands and currently she hasn’t even been able to even practice with the team. This young woman has not had things easy in her life but she is strong and I have so enjoyed getting to know her. She has been really lovely to me – open, supportive and welcoming. I am very fond of her and was happy to sit down with her and get to know more about her.
Fatti was born in Canada but grew up in California. Her family moved to the Bay area when she was about 5 years old. She lived there with her mom and her siblings. She is the oldest of 4 and her mother and siblings still live there. She said, “I love it there and miss it so much”. So I of course needed to find out why she was here in Toronto.
She described her childhood as difficult and described basketball as something that helped her stay focused and want to live a better life than what she saw around her. She went to the park with her friend every single day after school and played basketball for 3 hours. She was in the fifth grade when she first played on a basketball team and that year her team won first place in the district. She said from that point on she realized that she was good at this and loved the sport.
She said that basketball taught her so much about herself and about life. For example if you hit a point when things aren’t working well or going your way you can turn things around by just focusing and working hard. She said she had to be very independent growing up and had to learn things on her own until she got to high school. One of the most influential people in her life growing up was her Junior Varsity basketball coach Ken. She described him as the father figure that had been lacking in her life. During high school she lived with him and his family. His daughter, who was in the same grade as Faatimah, is one of her best friends.
She had found some support and stability with basketball and Ken’s influence in her life only to face unbearable tragedy in her junior year of high school when Ken passed away suddenly from a heart condition. As she talks about this it was clear to me how profoundly this experience impacted and still impacts her. Ken’s brother joined the coaching staff and she continued to play basketball even though she struggled with sadness from his death for a number of years. Ken’s brother became another hugely important support person in her life at this time. He reminded the players that Ken would want them to finish high school, go to college and become role models for other young people in the area who were facing the same challenges that they did growing up.
Faatimah left high school and started at a junior college studying general education and playing basketball. Her team ended up finishing second in the state in her first year. I wanted to understand whether school was a means to be able to play basketball or whether basketball was a means to attend school. She said that she thinks for her and for most athletes that their sport is what motivates them to do well in the classroom so that they can maintain their eligibility and keep playing.
After two years at the City College of San Francisco she got a scholarship to go to play at Texas A & M International. This was a huge change for her to move somewhere so completely different from home. She said she had amazing teammates but had some challenges and did not feel it was the right environment for her. She spent a year there studying kinesiology with a minor in psychology. With only a year of eligibility left in the US, and the ultimate goal of playing professionally overseas, she decided to come to Canada where she would have two more years of eligibility.
She had family here and felt that she would have more support than she had in Texas. This was not an easy transition for her particularly related to the academic work. We also talked about the difficulty she has had in trying to find an environment that has been as personally supportive as the one she had with her coach in high school. Clearly finding supportive teammates and coaches is really important to her and her well-being. She says that her teammates here are really great and have been supportive of her.
Fatti’s basketball eligibility ends this year and she will have one more semester of courses to finish her degree after this term. Given her injuries I know that it has been really hard for her to sit on the sidelines during her last year on the team.
We talked about height (Fatti is 5’4”) and the frustration that she has had with being told she was undersized for this game. From her perspective (and from what I have learned watching her play), this is a game where success is not dictated by height but by drive and skill level and how hard you work and talent and love of the game. Fatti has certainly proven this to me.
I asked her why she plays this game. She said simply she loves this game. It was something in her life that showed her she could do or accomplish whatever she wanted if she just put her mind to it. Basketball was a place where she could excel, get respect and find people who cared about her…it also has given her the opportunity to be a role model for other young people who have experienced some of the same challenges that she did growing up. There are young women that she influenced and inspired who still call her for advice and support. Basketball has given her this network and extended family.
What’s next for Fatti? She is interested in playing professionally overseas, but knowing she can’t do that forever I asked her what other plans she has for her future. She is thinking about a career in coaching where she can give to others what coaches have given to her. She talked about teaching young people to work hard, believe in themselves, etc.
We talked for so long about so many personal things that I will not write about here. She shared her struggles. I shared my struggles. I so enjoyed the real honest open conversation. I love knowing her – I have experienced a person who feels a lot, thinks a lot, cares a lot, is loyal and trustworthy and just a joy to know.
The last thing I will share is the quote that Faatimah has tattooed on her arm…
Life is too short to be anything but happy, falling down is a part of life. Getting back up is living.