It was not an easy road to success for hockey player Saroya Tinker.
On April 28, Tinker joined Upper School students and staff to share her experience and the hurdles she has overcome, leading her to where she is now. Growing up in Oshawa, Tinker began her athletic journey with gymnastics and dance but eventually found her connection with hockey.
Playing hockey in Canada brought many challenges, but something that became prominent was the lack of diversity in the sport. Coming from a biracial background with a White Ukrainian mother and Black Jamaican father — Tinker experienced both overt and covert racism over the years. Despite these struggles, she remained focused on her sport and academics, where she was later accepted to Yale University.
At Yale, she also played hockey. Tinker was the first Black hockey player to ever play for Yale, both from the men and women’s teams. Surrounded by new people, there was an onslaught of new challenges, and she longed for a sense of community. Feeling isolated, lonely and intimidated by students and her team led her to a depressive state. She knew something needed to change and became committed to her mental wellness and sought out counselling. After speaking to a string of counsellors, Tinker finally found one she could connect with. Another Black woman was able to relate to her struggles of feeling unseen and dealing with micro-aggressions. In her senior year, another Black hockey player, Kiersten Goode, joined the Yale team. Soraya realized how important it was for her to be there as a support and she became a sister figure to Kiersten. It was then that she realized she has a voice and girls would look up to her in the future.
After her university career, she applied for the hockey draft and was accepted to the Premier Hockey Federation, where she now plays for the Toronto Six hockey team.
Tinker spoke openly to students about her struggles with mental health and racism in sports as a way to bring awareness to the challenges Black female athletes face. She mentioned the importance of representation and how people from diverse backgrounds can come together through sport.
“I challenge for there to be more questions asked, more research done, and more experiences shared within the African-American community,” said Tinker. “When you take away the physical side of whichever sport one plays, the mental aspect of the game is equal to the physical.”
Along with being a professional hockey player, Tinker uses her platform to empower and inspire young women to overcome struggles similar to her own. She works with the Black Girls Hockey Club, which focuses on making hockey more inclusive for Black girls. Through this, she created her own foundation, Saroya Strong. In conjunction with Black Girl Hockey Club, she inspires girls all across North America, offering scholarships, mentorships, speaking engagements and more.
Thank you, Saroya, for sharing your inspirational journey with us!