At a home game at the University of British Columbia in January, the women’s hockey team retired the jersey of goalie Laura Taylor, number 29, who died by suicide last April. Ms. Taylor joined the UBC Thunderbirds as a practice goalie in 2015 while she pursued a degree in medicine. She had previously played with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. Days before turning 34, Ms. Taylor took her own life.
Ms. Taylor’s death shocked her teammates and head coach Graham Thomas, who remember their friend and colleague as warm and generous. “She just had this amazing smile. She was so passionate about the game and she loved the opportunity” to play with the team, he says. The coach notes that Ms. Taylor was private about her struggles with bipolar disorder and depression even as she went out of her way to help teammates struggling with personal issues.
The team planned a tribute to their former team member to honour her contributions to the Thunderbirds, and to raise awareness about mental illness and the complexity of suicide. “It was something that we just knew we wanted to do and then the department got behind it right away,” says Mr. Thomas.
More than 800 people attended the event, which included remarks from Ms. Taylor’s family, a mental health expert and UBC president Santa Ono, who has spoken openly about his struggles with mental health. “I think that was the night that we switched our grief into fulfilling a legacy,” says Stephanie Schaupmeyer, a member of the Thunderbirds team. Ms. Schaupmeyer says that one of Ms. Taylor’s jerseys was given to her family and the other will be placed in UBC Thunderbirds’ alumni room. “We have a lot of mementos over those 100 years of UBC history and I think Laura is a part of that.”
UBC’s school of medicine has established a scholarship in Ms. Taylor’s name and a new initiative was implemented to help UBC athletes. “It’s an early alert system that they introduced. If anyone notices anything [in their teammates] there’s an online way to report that and talk about it,” Mr. Thomas says, adding that athlete training will include mental health information and resources.