How I got involved with SFU’s Red Backpack Cult

The horde of red backpacks attached to athletes around campus are more than they appear . . .

Written by Paige Riding

I joined the SFU Athletics cult and all I got was this stupid red backpack.

It happens to the best of us. I’m but a simple, sheep-like student attending this large, daunting university. The concrete jungle of education gets lonely. And amongst the grey, amongst the construction signage and rainy skies, like a beacon of light, a warm smile, a comforting hug, there they are . . .

The red backpacks.

This was the accessory of my dreams and I needed it. The Nike check mark placed pointedly on the front of the bag provides the message that I needed to “Just Do It.” Who am I to refuse? I had to do it. I required that check mark with me, by me, around me. 

The bags are such a crisp red . . . red of the blood of all the athlete dropouts after their seventh year on academic probation. These martyrs died so the bag could live. The bag matched none of my outfits. And yet, I needed it.

My problem was that I hadn’t played an organized sport since the ninth grade. I was in no position to apply for that NCAA life. I couldn’t even tell you the difference between Gatorade flavours . . . I just drink the blue ones to cure hangovers. 

The only solution? Make enough connections that I could sneak my way into the group without the slightest amount of physical aptness to my name. I needed a way in.

The first attempt failed. I tried to grab one of the backpacks left behind in Dining Hall — or so I thought it was left behind. Turns out the basketball player who owned the bag was just grabbing some cookies for dessert. When I went to pick up the stylish accessory, I felt my fingers begin to burn. 

Was it a mental thing from the glare I received from the point guard returning to his seat? Or did he actually activate his heat vision? I will never know. At that point, I just needed to head back to the old drawing board and try again.

The second try happened organically. I was heading back from class and a group of the backpack cult were standing in the middle of the hallway, obnoxiously as possible. Those that tried to get by had to shuffle awkwardly, side-step with concentration, or scream “EXCUSE ME” about four times for any of them to move at all. 

So what did I do? I joined them. I stood there with them. The hallway became clogged even more, and part of the congestion was birthed from me.

None of the backpackers spoke. The moment needed no context. We all understood the intimate moment we were sharing. Before I knew it, I looked over my shoulder and there it was: the bag of my dreams. The red backpack.

What followed was the best season of my career. I drank a lot of water because I always kept my Gatorade water bottle in that handy little side pocket. Not all of my textbooks fit in the single pocket with my uniform and gym shoes, so I got serious gains from carrying them. It was great . . . for a time.

Once I had the bag, the grind really lost its lustre. It’s exhausting kissing all my teammates good night, every night. I went to practice and my butt hurt from warming the bench. I needed out, I realized. 

I tried leaving my bag in the gym. Fourteen athletes ran in a horde to return it to me after I tried to bail. I tried throwing the bag in the pool. It hovered over the surface, waterproof, and floated through the air back to me. 

As a last resort, I knew what I had to do. I traveled all the way to the bottom of the mountain, where no athlete has ever ventured, and left it there in the rain. It was a sad moment, sadder than a lost football game. But I did what I had to do. I just did it.

I thought I chose the backpack life, but, indeed, the backpack life chose me, and I could not handle it.