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A Bubble Burst: What the CFL means to me

Now what? The CFL season is cancelled and honestly, I’m gutted. I’m not going to lie, with all the talk of a potential bubble, I now feel like our collective bubble has been burst.

The feeling? Deflated. I’m disappointed for all the great athletes and coaches I know who devote their lives to this game. I’m sad for the up and coming practice roster gem of a player who was hoping this year was going to be his next-man-up opportunity. I’m sad for the injured athlete who after much suffering, has been diligently healing and actively rehabbing looking to this season as his comeback year. I’m sad for the established starter who’s been training, picking up steam, and was more than ready for this to be a breakout season; the stuff legacies are eventually made of. And I’m sad for the star veteran player who’s been ever devoted, preparing, putting in the hard work of excellence every off-season for years, and who understands now how precious each one truly is. I’m also sad for our coaches, who even after decades of dedication to this game, continue to face uncertainty yet somehow manage to do it with quiet grace and dignity.

And you know what? I’m also sad for me — and the many others like me — sport professionals across this league who in one way or another also dedicate themselves to excellence in and around this game we love.

You see, I was supposed to be working inside the bubble this season as part of the mental health and mental performance team. This was going to be such a unique experience, a truly once-in-a-lifetime chance as a mental performance consultant (MPC) to be a part of something special and historic in pro football. I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. Professionally speaking, this was going to be another breakthrough opportunity for me to be of service in this league. It’s worth mentioning that it hasn’t been easy to advocate for and create opportunities for mental health and mental performance in pro sports, let alone to do it as a woman. But football, and the CFL have been different.

Dr. Lussier stands alongside Ottawa REDBLACKS running back Brendan Gillanders for a photo post-game.

Here, I’ve finally been welcomed, embraced and have become a part of the great CFL family. Here, I have been valued for the knowledge and expertise I bring to our collective journeys of excellence. Here, diversity has been our strength, and my gender, mostly a non-issue. I am but one small piece of evidence of this, in the great tapestry that makes up this special league. Our CFL.

It’s also so much more than that, isn’t it? The CFL for so many of us is like a second family. It’s a place where one feels a sense of loyalty, community, and belonging, something we don’t always feel in our neighbourhoods, yet distinctly feel in stadiums across this country. A place where, behind the scenes, talent may open the door; but only sustained excellence allows you to remain within its spaces. With that consistent preparation, hard work, and dedication, comes great support and unwavering mutual respect.

The game is phenomenal and so exciting. But so is the action behind the action, the work behind the glory, the many moments before, during, and even after game day.

As a professionally trained ballet dancer, who even danced for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, I always did thrive not only on stage but also backstage. The history of the CFL goes way back, as do many of our own personal histories alongside it. This is why the CFL is a family, both on and off the field. I will definitely miss being a small part of this great big seasonal adventure we all willingly sign up for.

2020 has been hard on many levels for all of us. For me, I recently lost one of the greatest men in my life: my father. The pain and sorrow I feel goes deep, as anyone who’s ever lost a loved one knows. Throughout his hospitalization and subsequently, when he passed, I have felt held in care, not only by my family and closest friends, but as one player said to me, by “an army of people” behind me: my CFL family.

In so many ways, CFL athletes, coaches, and their families showed up for my family and I during our time of great sorrow. For that, and so much more, I will be forever grateful. The brotherhood is real, and it turns out, it includes a sister like me. I will truly miss seeing these phenomenal warriors play this year: the excitement of game day and the wild and exciting ride of a season full of wins and losses. I will miss those moments where I get to bear witness to an athlete’s peak performance and celebrate these memorable moments with them, their teammates, and their loved ones. I will even miss those hard moments too where we need to genuinely challenge and support each other and ourselves to dig deeper still. And I’ll miss being able to contribute in the ways I do as a mental performance coach to the growth mindset, mental skills training, and breakthrough peak performances of individuals and teams.

Last but not least, I’ll miss seeing the ever-growing CFL families and all the new babies that arrived throughout this off-season. But you know what? I take great comfort in knowing they all get to spend a bit more time together.

Maybe that’s the great lesson to be found amidst the rubble of so much loss and disappointment this year; that time is the greatest treasure of it all.

Dr. Lussier takes a selfie with REDBLACKS special teams coordinator Bob Dyce (centre) and defensive coordinator Mark Nelson in 2018.

Unlike football, life isn’t played with a stop clock. So while we stay home a little while longer and miss time with our football family, I’m reminded to also cherish the time we now get to spend with those closest to us. More than ever, we all have the opportunity to bring our focus back onto the process of living, growing, and thriving. We also have an opportunity to revisit the meaning and value behind what we do, why we do it, and how we do it.

As I slowly return to my professional activities, I am still grieving the loss of my father. To paraphrase an athlete with whom I was recently speaking, there’s a void that cannot be filled. As we turn our focus onto another chapter, and onto next season, it’s ok to still need to feel that sense of loss and to honour the void left behind.

What I am learning now? One of the blessings of loss is the expanded view and deeper realization of how much something, or someone, matters to us. Let’s use the loss of this season to remember just how much the CFL means to us, so we can do better together now, in preparation for the seasons still to come.