To move four hours away from home to attend university and play varsity hockey is sometimes doable for most people.
But for people with anxiety and people who get nervous, like Rachel Knee, it’s much more difficult.
To make matters worse, Knee is extremely close to her family.
So, the fact Knee knows she has 23 other girls she can turn to in times of need, has made the transition of moving away from home in Toronto easier.
Knee’s vibrant personality as a kid has also helped her fit right in at Carleton. As, according to her sister Sarah Knee, “Rachel was literally the life of the party.”
“She always had a lot of friends because she was really vibrant, positive, creative, and supportive when she was young,” Sarah said.
“And in many ways, she is still the same sunny individual,” she added.
Knee is currently heading into her fourth season as a part of the Carleton Ravens women’s hockey team for the 2019-2020 season.
Knee got started in the sport of hockey like most children her age, as she was put into the sport by her parents.
“My dad played since he was a kid, and my mom played basketball, but my parents agreed to put my brother, my sister, and I in skates first, so it just went from there,” Knee said.
Prior to coming to Carleton, Knee played for the Toronto Leaside Wildcats of the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), for two seasons.
While on Leaside, Knee played in 46 games, recording one goal and 13 assists, proving to coaches she is most reliable in the defensive zone.
“The first year I played there, I had my knee surgery, so I didn’t play. I was on the team waiting for the next year. I had a really good experience there. I still talk to a lot of the girls I played with,” Knee said.
In a way, Leaside would have a brief connection with Knee and Carleton, as recently graduated forward Jamie Wainman played for Leaside for one game.
“When I came to Carleton and met her, I was like, I swear I know you from somewhere, and she was like, I played one game for Leaside, and I was like, oh, right,” Knee said.
Starting in the 2016-17 season, Knee became a Raven, under the tutelage of head coach Pierre Alain, and began what will eventually lead to her fourth season this coming season.
The main reason for Knee’s decision to come to Carleton was how good the program of Political Science is. Knee is currently double majoring in Political Science and Psychology.
“After my knee surgery I took a year off, and when I came back from my surgery I was trying to figure out what my options were at that point, and Ravens head coach Pierre Alain had reached out to me previously, and at that point I realized that I wanted to go into Political Science,” Knee said.
“And it made sense for me to come to a place that offered a program as good as it is. So, it just went from there. I did the tour with my parents, and here I am,” she added.
So far while at Carleton, Knee has played in 45 games, recording 5 assists.
What stands out for Knee in her time at Carleton though, is the memories.
Knee has gotten the chance to experience many good ones, such as ending the “first half of the season this year in fourth place,” or “starting the season last year with a 3-2 record,” or “beating rival team the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees 5-2 in the Bytown Battle.”
But what really stands out for her is a moment from her first year, when the Ravens went down to Cornell University to face off against them in an exhibition game, and Knee got the chance to face off against her sister Sarah.
“That was a really, really, cool experience. I have a lot of good photos from that. My whole family came down, and that was a really, really, nice time,” Knee recalled.
The Cornell memory is also memorable for Sarah, as the sisters “rarely got an opportunity to see each other” while at their separate schools.
“It was so fun being able to play against her, but moreover to see her at Cornell,” Sarah said.
“It was entertaining for the whole family,” she added.
Because Knee’s sister is two years older than her, they weren’t as close growing up as they are now, but since Sarah moved away from home to go to Cornell, they got a lot closer.
“And we have a really good relationship in that sense. Like, she graduated last year and is currently playing hockey in Budapest, which is really hard, because it’s a six-hour time difference, so communicating is not always the easiest,” Knee said.
“But for a long time, she was definitely my role model as a player, and I’d always talk to her about how the game goes and whatnot, and if I had issues or anything, she’s the first person I talk to about everything,” she added.
Sarah has also said that Knee has a lot of qualities in her hockey that she looks up to.
“Rachel has a lot of great qualities as a hockey player and a teammate. From watching her play, I’ve tried to mirror her fearless attitude in my own game,” Sarah said.
And due to the fact that Knee is close to her parents, when it was her time to leave for Carleton, it was difficult. But due to the family dynamic on a varsity team, Knee feels like she has a second family away from home.
“I go to the girls with absolutely everything. I’m definitely one of the more open people on this team, I feel like everyone knows my personal life, and my academics, and whatnot. It’s nice though, because I know that if something goes wrong, they’re the first people I have,” Knee said.
“There are 23 people with me, supporting me through the whole process. And even the coaches, and our trainer, Brigitte Roy, has been phenomenal through the whole experience. And I don’t think I’d be able to move from home, as close as I am with my family, without the support that I have here,” she added.
And some of the 23 people who have Knee’s back, are the girls who have been on the team since Knee joined. This year’s graduating girls are Katelyn Steele, Nicole Allison, Shannon Pearson, and Jamie Wainman.
“I consider the four of them to be some of my closest friends. I live with Katelyn, and it’s been awesome. She’s one of my best friends. Definitely really supportive on and off the ice. Same with Nicole Allison, a great friend of mine,” Knee said.
“Shannon Pearson has been especially emotionally supportive, just like the other two. But Jamie is the kind of person that, if I’m having a bad day, she unintentionally knows it and will make me laugh regardless, and I appreciate that so much from her,” she added.
Due to playing a contact sport at a varsity level, Knee has had many challenges and adversities throughout her hockey career.
“I’ve had a few injuries that have been kind of difficult, and definitely being a really anxious and nervous person has been really hard to overcome, and becoming a player who plays with confidence, and believing in myself, is a really difficult thing to do,” Knee said.
But one of the more difficult challenges she’s faced, has been having to deal with a concussion this past season.
“It’s been the longest I’ve been out for, since I’ve been at Carleton. At first, I think it was a lot of denial, like, I’m fine, I’m totally good, and then I very shortly realized that I wasn’t fine. I was doing well two weeks in, when I went home for reading week I was totally fine, I was seeing people, I was going out of the house, and then it wasn’t until the week when I went back on the ice for my first non-contact practice that I felt really awful after,” Knee described.
“This year, in general, wasn’t my strongest year of hockey, so I think that, plus ending the season on a concussion has been motivating to go into my last year, like ready to play my best and finish off on a strong note. I want to leave Carleton with good memories. Especially with a program that I’ve dedicated so much time to and I have so much respect for,” she added.
In hand, though, the challenges Knee has faced, have helped her learn lessons through hockey that have shown her she can do anything she sets her mind to.
“Since being an athlete in general, I’ve had two major surgeries. I had my knee done when I was in grade 11, and then I had heart surgery in my first year, and the recovery time for that was short, but it was frustrating and it was a setback that I didn’t want to have in my first year,” Knee said.
“I think hard work goes a lot farther than you think it does. And I think that the idea of perseverance is something that is very rewarding, even though it may feel like a major obstacle in the beginning, you can persevere through anything if you really set your mind to it,” she added.
And playing a sport she has dedicated herself to for so long has allowed Knee the ability to grow and mature as a player and as a person.
“Since first year, I think I’ve grown to be much more open as an individual. Not that I wasn’t open in the beginning, but there’s a reason that I’m here, and there’s a reason that I have friends, and that there is no harm in just being yourself,” Knee said.
“As a player, I’ve definitely grown in confidence, not where I want to be, but watching back, in conversations with coaches, the player I was in first-year, to the player I am now, completely different player. I’m doing things that I would have never done, in a good way, so, I’ve definitely grown a lot in that sense,” she added.
Even though Knee is graduating at the end of next season, and even though she has no idea what she’ll do with her schooling and her degrees from Carleton, Knee does have an inkling about what she hopes to do in the sport she loves so much.
“I don’t think I’ll be someone who ever stops playing. Whether it’s at a more competitive level, or in beer league, I’m an athletic person, and I want to pursue keeping hockey in my life,” Knee said.