PhD student in Humboldt researching role of grief, loss in sport

HUMBOLDT — When Katie Faust was in her third year of her bachelor degree in 2013, her teammate on her rugby team died suddenly of leukemia.

“That death disrupted me in ways that other deaths that I had experienced hadn't,” she said.

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“It challenged me to think about the role of grief in sport and how as an athlete, I experienced grief differently. It shifted my focus on to why do we memorialize athletes in the way that we do?”

For her masters degree in applied health sciences, at the encouragement of a professor, Faust wrote an autoethnography – a piece of research where the author uses personal experience and connects it to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings – about that death.

“I wrote about my own experiences of losing a teammate and how disconnected I felt, at times and how I felt that sport gave me a space to grieve with,” she said, adding that while there where memorial tournaments, moments of silence and patches on her jerseys to remember her teammate, there was also the demands of the game to deal with.

Seven years later, Faust is a PhD student in exercise science at the University of Toronto, researching the role of grief, memorialization and loss within the context of sport, with a particular focus on the April 2018 Humboldt Broncos collision.

She has been in Humboldt since September and will leave in April. During her time here, she has attended public events, like memorial tournaments, competitions and games; and documented images of public physical memorials throughout the area.

Now Faust is at the stage where she is conducting interviews with people about the effect the collision had on them.

Once she returns to Ontario, Faust will read over her findings, analyze them, theme them, code them. She’s hoping the results will help those in the future that face similar tragedies.

“[What] I'm hoping to get out of this is that the results of this study will be communicated to organizations and sport policymakers to improve their resources and support for Canadian athletes, coaches, staff, administrators and communities.”

Faust said she decided to focus on Humboldt because she wanted something that was close to her experience, affecting younger athletes closer to her age.

“I wanted to come to Humboldt because I wanted to really experience and have a better feel what the community may have went through,” she said.

The PhD student said there’s been a few studies published based on media coverage, but she wanted to have boots on the ground.

“I feel better about asking people about their experiences in face to face situations rather than sending them out a survey or anything like that via email,” she said. “I really like to connect with people, especially because of my own experiences.”

The interviews will deal with five key areas: what life is like in Humboldt, what your relationship with hockey in the city is, what was your response to the collision, what were your impressions of the community response to the collision, and your thoughts on memorials created to remember the event.

Taking the interview is completely voluntary, with no compensation. Faust said she’s hoping she can talk to at least 20 people.

Faust said she’s aware the interviews may dredge up bad memories for some.

“I think that the benefits outweigh the risks with research like this. Just because of the scale of this accident, there needs to be something that comes out that's helpful for everyone in all sport,” she said. “I think if we know more about how the death of an athlete and the grieving of an athlete and how athletes grieve is better researched, we'll have a better idea of how to manage and understand how grief functions in sport.”

Faust can be contacted at 1-905-329-7838 or at katie.faust@mail.utoronto.ca.

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