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Take your checks and move on: Hockey pioneer and alumna

Alumna Justine Blainey-Broker talked about the life challenges she has faced when she visited the campus this past term.

Hockey fans may remember the name Justine Blainey, a pioneering female hockey player who won a spot in the Metro Toronto Hockey League in 1981 but was denied the chance to play because league regulations prohibited girls from playing. She subsequently complained to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which at that time allowed sexual discrimination in sports. She chose to appeal the Ontario law, which led to five different court cases, all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1986, the high court upheld her appeal, striking down a portion of the provincial human rights code and opening the door for women to compete with men in sports in Ontario.

However, her victory did not come without incident. While standing up for fairness and equity, she faced incidences of discrimination, cruelty, and significant social pressure. Now an alumna of U of T Scarborough, she graduated in 1995 with a BSc (Hons) in psychology and chemistry. She owns and operates the Justine Blainey-Broker Wellness Centre, a chiropractic practice in Brampton, along with her brother, David Blainey. She visited the campus again this past term to speak to students at the inaugural Perspectives on Leadership lecture series. Marketing and Communications at U of T Scarborough caught up with Justine Blainey-Broker recently.  

Q: A strong level of tenacity was needed in your battle to play boy’s hockey. Can you talk about that?

A: It’s important to not give up on your goals, even when you feel like throwing in the towel. Some things are worth fighting for. When I teach someone to skate, the first thing I show them is how to get up after a fall. I talk about the checks of life. Success comes from getting up from those checks. Challenges and stress are part of growth, but if you have a winning attitude, you take your checks and move on.

Q: How would you describe your work style? 

A: I’m a super-charged, energized person. I also make sure that I have a good team around me. My fitness and nutrition are high and I have developed a mission statement and positive affirmations that I read daily. I have a family, so I plan and schedule, and I make sure that my plan contains balance, so that the things I want to happen will happen. 

Q: What is your mission statement?

A: My personal mission statement is to love and appreciate those around me to a higher, healthier and happier potential. Our clinic mission statement is to serve families with love, education and life-enhancing care so that they may innately express their true potential and optimal health throughout life.

Q: What have you found in your career to be the biggest challenges?

A: Having played hockey, I enjoy teamwork and being with groups. The more people you have, the greater the energy you can build. If you have one horse, you get one horsepower, but if you have five horses, you can get five horsepower, and so it goes. However, at times, you can have people in the group who bring in other baggage and can’t leave it at the door. I’ve also seen others who can’t keep up with my pace and speed, because I expect from others the same things that I expect from myself. I understand that not everybody has the desire or skill for that level of energy, so I try to make sure my expectations of others are fair.

Q: As you look back on your work life and your chiropractic career, is there anything you would do differently?

A: I should have gotten coaching earlier. In my second year I started to get coaching, and I began to see significant growth in my practice and in my own life. We all need coaches to help point out the things that we can’t or don’t want to see and to help us excel. The most satisfying part of my work now is watching families become healthier and happier. People come in feeling stressed and negative and they don’t have the energy for their children. Within a few months, they are feeling better and excited about their day.

Q: How would you describe your time as a student here at the University of Toronto Scarborough?

A: I was excited to be at U of T and to have a scholarship, but my first year was challenging. I was playing 100 games a season and my day started at 5:00 a.m. and went until midnight. My roommates in residence couldn’t understand my intensity and my desires. I also experienced a huge drop in marks in first year, going from a 98 to a 52 by Christmas. Although I knew how to play hockey, I realized I had to learn to play a new and different game at university. Once I learned it, things started to go better with my grades. It was also a difficult time because the university was recommending for financial reasons to cut the women’s hockey team, which had won the championship 13 times. This was the team I had been passionate about. We started phoning women hockey alumni and got them to voice their concerns and raise money, and in the end they kept the team. Those were stressful times, but they got better. The more I pressed on and the more I asked for help, the more the pieces started to come together. I really believe that if you focus, meditate, pray, or seek help, it will be there for you. 

Q: What were the main benefits of your time at university?

A: It was a stepping stone in my career, but it certainly helped me to learn to multi-task and get out of my comfort zone, and those were great skills to develop. I was working towards the nationals and the Olympics and trying to maintain an 80-plus average to keep my scholarship, so it was hard.

Q: Now that girls can play on boys’ hockey teams, do people ever come up to you and say thank you?

A: Not often. When I was fighting the legal battles to play with the guys, I would go to the hockey rinks and I was spit on, and I had coffee and popcorn thrown at me. I lost friends, I received crank phone calls, and petitions were circulating at the rinks claiming that I was ruining hockey. But now I do hear thank you, maybe half a dozen times a year, and it feels good. Now I also try to make sure that I thank the people that I’m grateful for.

Q: Can you say something about your life outside of work, such as how you spend your free time, or what your hobbies and interests are?

A: I have two children, my daughter Yohanna, 6, and my son Théo, 4, and my husband Blake Broker. They’re the loves of my life. I’m a chiropractor and a believer in health care all the time, and I’m a mom all the time. Those are my passions now.  

Q: Do you have any advice for others?

Everyone should write down their goals and mission statement and positive affirmations. They keep you focused and believing in yourself. Even if they are just small goals, it’s important to write them down. They can change, but it’s important to have them. Even my kids have goal boards. Every major leader in history and the bible has taken their checks. Those checks gave them wisdom and strength. We can learn from other peoples’ falls and challenges, and just as we’re thankful for the good times, we’ve got to be thankful for the tough times.

by Mary Ann Gratton

© University of Toronto Scarborough