Andrew Schnell

Pan Am Games Gold Medalist, 2X Canadian Champ, Current Canadian #1, MSc Kinesiology, #fasterhigherstronger

An Athlete's Perspective: The Orlando Shooting Incident

On June 12, 2016, the world awoke to a scene of violence, sadness, and destruction. Headlines describing the brutality of the Orlando shooting, which resulted in the death of 49 innocent people, littered the Internet. Images of frightened, heartbroken individuals covered the front pages of our newspapers. Stories depicting the lived experiences of the friends and families of those affected were already unfolding on the television. The Orlando shooting was, to say the very least, heart-shattering. 

On this morning, like most other mornings, I was preparing to head down to the squash club for my first training session of the day. The schedule included a 9:00am-10:30am pressure session, followed by an hour up in the gym and then a match later in the evening. I went, but I didn’t feel like going. In fact, I didn’t feel like doing much of anything that day. Somehow hitting a little black ball around a squash court just didn’t seem too important when there were so many individuals whose lives were unfairly, unjustly taken from our world. My efforts to excel at the sport I love felt rather aimless.

The same thing has happened to me before. I was scheduled to play a New Zealander by the name of Evan Williams (great player and really nice guy) at the World Individual Championships in Seattle when news struck of the Paris bombing incident. Evan played a great match, but to be honest, I didn’t really mind losing, even if it was my first World Champs. I mean, what was the point? Was winning a squash match going to bring joy to those around me? Was my victory somehow going to make the world a better place? Would it bring back all those innocent people? Sometimes I struggle to see the greater purpose in doing what I do. Sometimes being a professional athlete feels rather selfish.

So where do I, or we (for I am certainly not the only one who may sometimes wonder at the purpose of their profession) go from here? Shall we just accept the selfishness of our occupations and let our feelings of grief and remorse slowly fade as they so often seem to in the world of social media? Even in posting this blog, I wonder if my words are already ‘outdated’ or irrelevant. Alternatively, we could simply drop it all and devote ourselves to restoring poverty-stricken areas. Leave our jobs behind and aim at helping others in the rawest sense. Neither option seems too great to me. The first, for obvious reasons. And the second? Well there are our families and friends to consider, plus obligations, and finally (and here’s the big one), it seems a shame to neglect or bury the talents and gifts with which we have been bestowed. As many of you know, I am a Christian, but regardless of any religious or spiritual outlook, I think it's fair to say that each and every individual has been given certain skills or abilities that sets them apart from the rest. Call them aptitudes, knacks, or little bags of gold, they’re pretty specific, and really awesome. The question from here, though, becomes whether we wish to use these gifts in a manner that brings joy to those around us.

You see, when incidents such as the Orlando shooting or Paris bombing occur, they remind us of a choice we must face each day we awake: do we go about our lives using our talents and ambitions selfishly, guarding them against the outside world and hogging them for our own personal gain, or do we take these lives we’ve been given and the abilities that are so uniquely our own, and spread them under the feet of our comrades, not even pausing to caution against treading too hard (to paraphrase Yeats). The choice is a simple one.

 We try.

We try for our families. We try for our friends. And we try for the people who were killed In Orlando and Paris and every other awful or unjust incident that has occurred in the world.

 “But how could my job or ability possibly make a difference?” Well that’s up to you too, isn’t it? For me, I just try (and so often fail) to keep my eyes open. I wait patiently for the time a child will notice how hard I am training and believe they can do the same. I look for the opportunity to use my status as a professional squash player to talk with people; to make them smile or inspire them in some small way. I try to be a good role model. Will my efforts change anyone’s life? No. Will they bring back all of the innocent lives lost as a result of those devastating attacks? Unfortunately, no. But maybe (just maybe) my unique ability as an athlete will bring joy to someone. Maybe this blog will do the same. And who knows, maybe if enough of us get together and use our gifts to serve others, we’ll make the world a better place. Now there’s something pretty cool.

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