By Armen Zargarian
Despite the cancellation of Ontario University Athletics (OUA) for the 2020-21 season, two of Ryerson’s senior athletes are intrinsically relaying their respective sport to their evolving careers. Though they may not be on the ice or pitch anymore, the lessons they learned there are helping them every day.
Heading into the 2020-21 school year, Ali Ghazanfari was poised to pursue his Master of Business Administration degree at Ryerson while also looking forward to his fifth year as a goalkeeper for the Rams men’s soccer team.
In the 2019-20 season, he was at the height of his soccer career, being named an OUA First-Team All-Star and receiving multiple Stars of the Week awards at Ryerson.
So when the pandemic brought competitive soccer to a halt, Ghazanfari readied himself to refocus his drive into his next love: coaching.
“In life, you play to your strengths. My strengths are getting across to people well, getting the best out of them,” he said. Ghazanfari has been coaching since he was 17 years old.
“This is a passion project”
In the early summer months of 2020, Ghazanfari was informally training a few students on the weekends when he got a call from a friend, Ryerson alumni goalkeeper and entrepreneurial spirit, Djordje Doslo.
Doslo said he initially reached out to Ghazanfari for advice on how to “properly coach”—he had a couple of willing students that he was hoping to work with.
The spirited phonecall soon snowballed into an idea. Ghazanfari and Doslo channeled their goalkeeping skills, business acumen and coaching passion to officially launch Clean Sheet Goalkeeper Academy.
Ghazanfari and Doslo’s experience at Ryerson prepared them to not only train players, but to propel a business as well.
“Being a goalkeeper, you have to be vocal and organize the team. In business, you need to learn how to organize your business, take direction and give direction,” said Doslo. “It goes hand in hand.”
Ghazanfari’s business model addressed a problem he identified in the sport: a lack of personal and quality coaching for goalkeepers in the GTA.
“For a position that’s so technique-based, I think it’s very important to have smaller groups of players. The coach can see what’s going and critique you as you are doing it,” he said. The Clean Sheet Goalkeeping Academy strictly adheres to a maximum of five trainees per trainer.
On the day of our interview, Ghazanfari trained four goalies. “I could put them [the trainees] together and make that same money in one hour. But as a coach, as somebody that wants their players to improve, it doesn’t make sense to me.”
Ghazanfari separated the trainees based on quality and gave them two separate sessions. “You get the competitive side that you can only achieve when you have a few goalies. Once you raise the competitiveness, you get better quality.”
Ideally, Clean Sheet Goalkeeping Academy would transition the operations indoor throughout the winter months. However, they acknowledge COVID-19’s restraints on the business. Ghazanfari said he contacted facilities to no avail: no one is open.
Ghazanfari, in the North York region, and Doslo, in Etobicoke, are strategizing growth by continuing to build markets in different regions. Ghazanfari cites the Hangar, a sprawling multi-sports complex in North York, as a middle ground when venues eventually reopen.
Like so many businesses, until normalcy returns, Clean Sheet is at the mercy of the pandemic and its restrictions. For Ghazanfari though, he isn’t in this for the money that the pandemic may be costing them.
“This is a passion project. If it ends up making me a lot of money, great. If not, I’m still doing it.”
In the 2019-20 season skating for the Rams, Anastasiya Romanska would go to 7 a.m. practices four days a week in preparation for the OUA figure skating championships.
The championships were held on home ice last February, which meant something extra special for Romanska and her teammates. “I’ve skated in a lot of rinks and Mattamy [Athletic Centre] is my favourite. Last year was such an amazing year,” Romanska said.
Isabella Larkin, a friend of Romanska and last season’s co-captain, remembered: “[Romanska] was in three events. She had a lot going on and always puts 110% into everything.”
The remembrance of support, memories and friendships formed during last season’s exhilarating journey made the cancellation of the 2020-21 season particularly sobering.
Romanska admits to being disappointed but took the loss in stride. “There is no point of dwelling on the fact that you can’t [compete] right now,” said Romanska.
With collegiate figure skating out of the picture, Romanska focused on another passion that’s driven her since childhood: an everlasting curiosity and knack for getting to know people.
“When I was seven or eight I had this little dark green notebook, it was from Dollorama, and I wrote down silly questions and asked everyone these questions. I was convinced I was going to be the next Bob Woodward,” she said.
With more time allocated to her professional life, Romanska approached local outlet blogTO about writing historical articles that showcased often forgotten neighbourhoods in Toronto.
“Skating taught me acknowledging privilege and getting up when you fall down, which shaped me”
By the start of her fall semester at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, Romanska’s morning routine was rewarding her in new ways: instead of hitting the ice, she was researching and interviewing, looking after her chocolate poodle puppy and pedalling on her new spin bike.
Romanska said that during the isolation of the pandemic, journalism has given her a chance to connect with others.
“It’s great to see people interacting, appreciating or criticizing. It’s all part of the job to get people’s feedback and grow from it,” she said.
Larkin was proud, but not surprised, by her friend’s motivation to tell stories. “She’s very positive. I come from England so I have always asked her about things,” Larkin said. “She could tell like a million stories in one.”
Romanska continues to unmask hidden anecdotes and evidence about Toronto’s neighbourhoods, and sprinkles some news stories in too. She’s well aware that journalism is a shrinking industry and the importance of delivering quality content is tantamount.
“I have to be extra cautious that I’m fact-checking everything and making sure what I’m putting out is providing value to people,” Romanska explained.
Despite a list of injuries–including foot fractures, concussions, torn knee ligaments and a dislocated shoulder and jaw—sustained on the ice, you can still find Romanska on the ice landing axels. Her perseverance starts on the ice but permeates into every other aspect of her life.
“Skating taught me acknowledging privilege and getting up when you fall down, which shaped me not only as a journalist but as a person,” Romanska said. “There’s a certain pressure that comes with the sport because you are the only person responsible for your outcome. All eyes are on you.”
Although both Ghazanfari and Romanska’s competitive athletic careers may be on hiatus, what they learned in their respective sports is only beginning to help them as they transfer into a new stage of life.
CORRECTIONS: A previous version of this article stated that Anastasiya Romanska landed triple axels. This article has been updated to reflect that she landed single axels. This article has also been updated to reflect that Romanska’s practices started at 7 a.m., not 6 a.m. The Eyeopener regrets these errors.