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Julie Gordon with background assets
All For the Love of the Game Sports

Julie Gordon’s journey back to the court

By Daniel Carrero 

Julie Gordon was sitting in her car in the parking lot outside the Wilfrid Laurier University gym in 2011. She had just finished a training session when she received a text from another athlete. 

“Is it true?” the message read. 

Gordon was in her second year playing for the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks. The season before, she was awarded the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Rookie of the Year in 2009-10.

Her biggest obstacle so far had been a back injury—until that night.

“Is what true? What are you talking about?” Gordon responded, confused.

She instantly called the team’s captain and both of them started crying after the news was confirmed.

Wilfrid Laurier University had shut down both the men’s and women’s varsity volleyball teams. The program’s closure was a challenge for Gordon, as volleyball was most of her identity.

“Back then I was like, who am I without the sport?” she said. 

Nine years later, Gordon is a member of the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) Bold women’s volleyball team where she once again plays indoor volleyball after spending several years as a beach volleyball player. 

In addition to playing a varsity sport, she is a full-time student at The Chang School, has a full-time job as an operations manager with a real estate agency, coaches a youth volleyball team and is getting married later this year.

“It could be an opportunity for me to just do something fun in life and explore a new way of telling my story, a way of healing and a way of supporting young women around me,” she said. 

After the Golden Hawks axed their volleyball program, Gordon went on to play with the Guelph Gryphons for one season while still being a full-time student at Wilfrid Laurier until 2013.

Despite still having two years of U Sports eligibility left, Gordon had the chance to play beach volleyball with Team Canada’s senior women’s national team. The opportunity arose after her former Wilfrid Laurier teammate, Victoria Altomare, switched to beach volleyball and was looking for a partner.

“Sure, let’s give it a go,” Gordon had said. “I fell in love with it really quickly.”

Over the next seven years, she went on to win two Beach Volleyball World Tours in 2017, the Canadian Championship of 2019 and placed second in the Canadian Championship of 2017 and 2018, while also finishing second in the Swiss Tour Geneva in 2018. 

Despite her achievements, she acknowledges that the sport “comes with other sacrifices.”

Gordon retired from Team Canada in 2021, partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic but also because of the mental toll professional volleyball took on her. 

“Unless you’re winning the tournament, everyone goes home miserable,” she said. “Even when I did win tournaments, I would still go home feeling like I could have played better.” 

She ran into TMU women’s volleyball assistant coach Brett Hagarty. Gordon mentioned she coaches a youth volleyball team and told Hagarty she jumps in and plays with her team sometimes. They joked about the chances of her using her years of U Sports eligibility to join TMU. 

Gordon eventually gave in to the jokes and decided to have a serious conversation with women’s volleyball head coach Dustin Reid. After careful thought, the now 32-year-old wanted to have her last dance with the sport. 

For Reid, the decision to incorporate Gordon onto the team wasn’t based on performance objectives.

“It was a really unique opportunity to bring someone who’s had tremendous experiences in sport and life,” Reid said. “She’s not focused on her results, or what’s in it for her. It made welcoming her to the team very easy for the players and coaches.”

Reid wanted everyone on the team to be on board with the decision. He consulted with fourth-year middle and team captain Ashley Ditchfield. 

“He approached me and two other people on the team to get to know how we would feel if someone came in mid-season,” Ditchfield said. “We all agreed that we were super open to it.” 

Gordon joined the team after an exhibition game during the holiday break against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. She then made her TMU debut on Jan. 12 against the Lakehead Thunderwolves. 

For Ditchfield, the implementation of an experienced athlete like Gordon brought out the best in the team. 

“With that experience comes knowledge,” she said. “She’s been able to teach us and guide us through tough moments.”

Gordon’s fiancé Sam Schachter said he feels this opportunity allowed her to enjoy volleyball again.

“When that opportunity came, and the stars seemed to align with her job and the flexibility that she had with that, it was sort of a no-brainer,” Schachter said.

Just five weeks after starting her career as a member of the Bold, Gordon played her last game with the team in a defeat against the Brock Badgers in the OUA semi-final. She said she is unlikely to return to the Bold next season. 

“It’s been really fun, but it’s just a lot and I’m a little tired,” she said.

Still, Gordon said she looks back on the decision as a new chapter of her life. 

“It’s not very often in life that you can actually go back and do something over again, and rewrite the story,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that.”

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