When a female joins the men's team! The ice hockey squad of Oxford University
- An interview with ice-hockey professional athlete Eden Murray, who has also studied at Yale and Oxford Universities.
Eden Murray is a well-defined all-rounder. She is a student-athlete and has played ice-hockey for Yale and Oxford Universities apart from competing for the Canadian National U18 Team. She also competed for a year in the professional women's league hockey in Canada after finishing her degree in economics at Yale University, winning the championship with her 'Inferno' group. Now, what is surprising is that she is the only female on the men's team in the ice hockey squad of Oxford University, while obtaining her MBA from the Said School of Business at Oxford. Despite being a foot shorter than her other mates at Oxford's ice hockey roster, Murray leaves no stone unturned and talks all about her career, aspirations, female empowerment, and more in this exclusive interview. So, on to the questions now!
Going back, how did you start your career in Ice Hockey?
It all started in 2002, when my three older sisters and I were watching the Winter Olympics, and the Canadian Women’s team upset Team USA to win the gold medal. We all decided to play post that.
Can you talk about your initial training in the sport and some competitions? What made you think of going higher in the ranks in the sport?
Hockey is extremely popular in Canada, and this is definitely true. Whereas most of my friends had started when they were just 4 or 5, I started playing when I was 7. Due to this minor delay for the three of us, we began getting up really early before school to practice our skating and pucking skills. We would wake up at 5 am and skate for an hour, which was followed by showering and heading right to school. Once school finished at 3pm, our father would pick us up, and we would head back to the rink for a couple of more hours of lessons. Eventually we caught up to our peers and started enjoying our successes. When I realised that I was playing quite decently for a person of my age, I began thinking about making regional teams within Alberta. Eventually, after making these, I aimed for the Alberta provincial squad that heads to the Canadian Nationals annually. Things began accelerating after I made the Canadian Nationals and represented my province of Alberta. After three years of Team Alberta U18 and captaining the group in my final year, I got called up for a tryout with Team Canada U18 and ended up making it! We won the World Championship in Helsinki, Finland! After a successful tournament there, I was invited to tryout for the Canadian Olympic Development/ U22 squad, for 4 years in a row.
Once you took the plunge into competitive ice hockey, playing for teams such as Team Canada and Team Alberta, how did you prepare?
Once I began getting invites to provincial and Canadian national tryouts, I realized how essential my training became. As everyone is so good at that level, the players that make it over those that don’t often do so only by a measure of inches. At a peak point in my career, I can recall getting up at 5 am four days a week and heading to the rink to practice my game. On top of this, I was also either in school full-time or working full-time. After school/work finished, I would head back to the rink for team practice, and then I would do my physical training for 2 hours, doing everything from hill sprints and weight lifting to agility work. Once I got home, I usually tried to read some sort of mental toughness book for an hour, and then I would begin my studies. At this stage, one might say that I was a little type-A in terms of pursuing “excellence”. However, it always boils down to the little things: Who is eating healthier, getting a couple more hours of sleep each night, training harder, and is mentally stronger?
It is of course difficult to manage playing professional sports and doing school work. Can you speak about how you balanced out both activities?
What still really seems to work for me is the ability to “work smart” and manage my time in the most effective way possible. For me, this often looks like solving problems on team buses if I miss classes due to sport, and when I begin the task itself, choosing to do the hardest things first that I know will take a lot of time and effort. It's also learning when to take a break from both, because no one is that robotic that they don’t benefit from a small mental break ever so often. Nevertheless, it's really about learning how to “pick and choose” your focus spots.
You went to Yale University as an undergrad and played on the competitive ice hockey team. This was a time when you were in an all-female squad. Can you share your experience right before getting accepted into the program, and what you had to do prior to it until the very end?
Right before I had been accepted into Yale, I was also trying to make Team Canada U22. Thankfully the training for the National team really elevated my preparedness as well as my ability to manage my time when I arrived on campus at Yale. Leading up to Yale, I also recall the need to prepare academically. Whether it was reading books suggested by the Yale faculty, or ensuring that I was staying on top of all of my high-school classes, I knew that the students at Yale would be at an entirely different level than those of us still in high school.
You finished your undergraduate education and then decided to play in a professional league. What can you say about this time? How did you go about the rigour of a fully-professional ice hockey life?
I was actually working full time selling cars at my family’s automotive dealership, while playing professionally for the Calgary Inferno. We had 9 Olympians on our team, and we ended up winning the entire Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). Balancing these two pursuits – hockey and full time work - was unlike anything I had experienced before. It was incredibly exhausting, and I feel for all of the professional female athletes out there that have to work alongside mastering their play, strictly because their sport does not permit them the economic freedom of pursuing the game alone. Just speaking in regards to my own experience with the Inferno, we would practice for an hour or so, 4 times a week, starting at 7am, and then we would head to the gym and workout for an hour, after which every girl would rush off to work. After our jobs were over, sometimes we would have an additional ice time to prepare for the upcoming weekend games. We had several Canadian teams in our league, as well as one from Boston and one from China. We would take turns flying to our competitors as well. Since players also worked full time, this meant taking the read eye flight the day/night of the game, and then heading back on the Sunday after our second game, getting in at around 2 am only to have to get up for work in 4 hours. These girls are some of the most committed and determined people I have ever met, and they never complain about their situation. It just becomes a “reality”.
You then switched paths into an MBA degree at Oxford. How did this happen? In your biography on Poets and Quants, it states that you were admitted into the program despite your limited work experience. How did that work out? Can you share your entire journey since the application until now?
I recall just being incredibly honest in my interview. I knew I didn’t have the same work experience as my fellow colleagues, so there was no sense in acting like I had. Instead, I really focused on my academic and athletic background, as well as my family’s business, which has been around for over 4 generations. To be honest though, I definitely still have “imposter syndrome” when it comes to understanding why they let me in! Really though, the group of MBA’s that I am with are all so fascinating and motivating. I find it so lucky that I get to learn from all of the brightest minds, who all have so much passion and knowledge in their respective fields; not to say that I have nothing to offer, I just think it's more a fact of recognizing what you can bring, and what you can’t – and from what you can’t bring, you can learn about.
Your dreams of ice hockey weren't over at Oxford. This time you found yourself to be playing on the men's roster. Despite being the 'shortest' amongst the lot, you were able to stand out in a team consisting of these stalwarts. What can you say about your mindset, and how is it like competing in this squad currently? Will this continue post you graduate from Oxford?
My mindset is definitely one of driven defiance. Every time I step on the ice, I try to act as if I were “one of the guys”, in such a way where I still get to be myself, but all the rules of the game still apply equally. I despise the idea of being treated or played against differently just on the bases of gender and appearance. I know people enjoy centering on the fact that I am a girl and I am a foot shorter than my teammates, for a good reason - it's uncommon! However, I argue that what’s more incredible, is the amazing group of guys that I get to play hockey with on a daily basis; I seriously doubt that I have ever met a more impressive, classy group of men. And we are all here for the same reason: we love ice hockey, we are passionate about academics, and we love being a part of something bigger than our own daily lives. I think this desire to insert myself in positive team environments will definitely continue post graduation; it's a healthy habit to continue regardless of the level I pursue it at.
Women are not necessarily represented as well in ice hockey as men are. Do you have any thoughts about this? What can change to improve the current situation? Ice Hockey is one of the most contact heavy sports that one can play. One has to be both a good skater as well as a decent hockey player. Do these factors have anything to do with the low female participation ,or are these just myths?
I could go on and on about this fact, but to summarise my thoughts I’d say this: it's largely a “chicken and the egg” problem. People are hesitant to stand behind female sports at the same rate as male athletics because these individuals haven’t watched enough or learned enough to know how good our female athletes are. One of the main reasons why people haven’t watched enough or learned enough is because there is no coverage for women in sports, where nearly 96% of this goes to male athletics. And women aren’t covered enough in the media, because many media outlets feel that their viewership data represents a likelihood for unprofitability in female sport. Most of this data comes from historical metrics, however, which has been driven for centuries by male athletes, so of course it's going to skew the results towards not enough people being “interested in women’s sports”. So, I think the contrary – it might actually be a first mover advantage. Whoever decides to take short- term economic losses as these perceptions around the game change will likely reap the most benefits in the long-run. The idea that contact sports are becoming less popular is not a myth. With the shift in concussion culture, as well as in mental health, people are seemingly more aware of the negative side effects that contact sports can have. This is yet another small reason why I believe that there is a viable future market for women’s athletics, since most female sports are non-contact.
Ice Hockey is extremely fast. One has to be very agile and rapid with one's movement in the rink. How do you specifically train for the high-level competitions? How have the increasing trends in data analytics and sports tech advanced the sport and your own professional career?
Everyone says it: hockey is a speed game now. It used to be all about size and physical toughness, but now it's more about lower body strength, which ultimately gives players speed and power in corner battles. Alongside speed, puck skill, and agility, the mental side of the game is becoming increasingly important. Most of the top players have read a plethora of mental strategy books, and have some kind of mentor or mindset coach. Moreover, as the equipment technology also advances, shooting the puck becomes easier, but so does saving it – goalies have constant improvements to their gear that enables them to make the best saves and move with fluidity across their crease.
What are your near future goals? Are you thinking about the Winter Olympics, possibly?
I used to think about the Olympics a lot, actually. It was a solid dream of mine for at least a decade, especially during those five years of being in the national program, but I also realized that making a living playing hockey wasn’t possible in my environment. Many of the Olympians get subsidized a small amount by their national programs, but I don’t think I was good enough for long to sustain that level of funding. I was always more of a bubble player if I was ever to make a team, so putting on hold my professional career to maybe make a team just didn’t seem like an option. I plan to change that reality for females playing sport, not simply because of my own experiences, but from seeing how it's impacted many of my friends who had a true passion for the game and couldn’t pursue it to their full potential because of some economic constraint placed on by society.
Finally, what advice can you offer to our readers to become better at whatever sport that they may pursue?
Be relentless in your passion. If it's what truly wakes you up in the morning, then don’t stop trying to be the best in every way: health, mind, leadership, etc. I’m confident that gender equality in sport will be sorted out soon, and we’ll have the resources to make our athletic dreams a full-time living, on a larger scale. Keep pushing the boundaries of what you think is “doable” and “attainable”, because the more you work to push those, the easier it is for the up and coming generations to be in a situation where there are no boundaries.
Rapid Fire Questions-
1. Favourite Quote- “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same” – Nelson Mandela
2. Inspirational Person- My three older sisters
3. Favourite Ice Hockey Moment- Winning Canada Winter Games with Team Alberta U18 alongside my sister, Kelly
4. Favourite Book- Name of the Wind
5. Any Hobbies- I like to read fiction and sing
6. Favourite Film- Anything with Tom Hanks
7. Workout Routine- usually run three days a week, core and body weight stuff every single day, and play hockey
8. If you were to write your autobiography, what would the title and the last line be, and why?- Title: How Eden lived outside The Garden. Last sentence: And she was happy.
9. Something that you can't ever forget from your time at Yale University &/ Oxford University- how old and beautiful the buildings are, but more importantly, how young and bright the minds are
10. Favourite word- Hello!Published 08 Mar 2020, 21:29 IST