Olympic Watch: SFU student Gabriel Ho-Garcia is Rio-ready


[dropcap]S[/dropcap]FU will not be without representation at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics. In the opening ceremonies, keep your eyes peeled for student Gabriel Ho-Garcia, playing men’s field hockey for Team Canada  .

The Peak caught up with Ho-Garcia after he’d attended a barbecue held in honour of those going off to compete in Rio. Leaving on July 25, Ho-Garcia was looking forward to his Olympic debut as an athlete on Canada’s men’s field hockey team. You could see the excitement in his face.

The field hockey team’s first match in the Olympics is on August 6, giving the players about 10 days to warm up and get acclimatized to the temperature, time change, and, what Ho-Garcia emphasized as a big one, humidity.

While looking forward to stepping onto the world stage, he also looked back on his beginnings as an athlete. Ho-Garcia explained how his mother enrolled him in soccer for his first sport: “I was kind of a chubby kid growing up, so my mom wanted to keep me active and out of the house,” he chuckled.

He ended up being a huge soccer fan, but when the season ended he was left with nothing to do. Though the budding athlete’s mom vetoed baseball because it didn’t involve enough cardio, she found field hockey a suitable exercise when one of his friends recommended he try it out.

“At the Olympics, the whole world is watching.” – Gabriel Ho-Garcia

“I never took field hockey seriously; it was always a second sport [to soccer],” Ho-Garcia admitted.

He recalled that he started to dedicate himself more to field hockey when he made his first provincial team at age 14. The turning point in his career came when his soccer coach in Grade 12 told him he had to choose one sport because of time conflicts between the training sessions of soccer and field hockey.

“So that year, in Grade 12, I had to make the choice of dropping soccer,” Ho-Garcia said. “It was heartbreaking, I was devastated. So I didn’t really choose field hockey, I was kind of forced into it.

“But now I’m so happy about the decision I made,” he reinforced. “I love field hockey.”

Ho-Garcia outlined part of the brutal training schedule that athletes such as him take on leading up to the Olympics: “For a year and a half, we trained at 6:30 a.m. It was insane,” he recalled. “I would train at 6:30 a.m., shower, go to class right after, fall asleep in class, take no notes, and somehow still pass.”

He described the month in between where the team trained at 6:30 a.m. for five days a week as the hardest month, “but it gave us the mindset of what it was going to take to qualify [for the Olympics].”

When asked how he stayed motivated to push through the most difficult practices, Ho-Garcia gave his most honest answer: “Truth be told,” he began, “I’m known on the team for being the slacker lazy guy.” But, reflecting back, he admitted that ever since the team qualified for the Olympics a year ago, he’s been a lot more motivated than he was before.

“I’ve gone to the Commonwealth and the Pan Am games, and that was awesome,” he said. “But at the Olympics, the whole world is watching. Realizing that I’m representing Canada in front of the whole world has definitely made me a lot more motivated; I want to make my country proud.”

Throughout both his athletic and academic endeavours, Ho-Garcia named his family as his biggest support system.

When asked for any rituals he adheres to as an athlete, Ho-Garcia produced an impressive list. He always puts his left shin pad on first; he always kisses his wrist whenever he scores a goal; and, the most complex, he wears two pairs of socks: the inner socks are worn on the correct feet, but the outer socks are worn on the wrong feet. And to pump him up pregame, he listens to Lana Del Rey.

Actually, he listens to Lana Del Rey to pump him up for exams, too.

“Lana Del Rey has gotten me through so many exams. Thank God for Lana Del Rey.”

He’ll probably need the singer a few more times this fall: along with all that’s going on with his athletic career, Ho-Garcia is looking to complete his marketing and finance degree at Beedie School of Business.

While excelling in athletics, he described himself as highly career-oriented as well. Along with a couple of Beedie friends, he initiated a startup company a couple years back in commercial and hospitality furnishing. They recently finished their first project at a lounge on Hastings, and are in negotiations with Spacecraft to furnish more office spaces.

Throughout both his athletic and academic endeavours, Ho-Garcia named his family as his biggest support system.

“They’ve been there for me financially: when the junior [field hockey] team was self-funded, they made sure I could go on every trip and training camp. Before I got my licence, my mom would drive me to UBC three to four days a week for practice,” he remembered.

If there’s one thing I picked up on during the interview, it was that despite all of his successes and the demands on his time, Ho-Garcia is a down-to-earth, easygoing person who isn’t afraid to make fun of himself. When asked about what he’s most looking forward to these next few weeks, he responded: “Walking out during the opening ceremonies in Rio.

“Although you probably won’t be able to see me, because I’m so short.”