From Canada to BYU sports, eh?

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Alexa Gray, Sin To and Eliane Kulczyk are three of a handful of female BYU athletes who call Canada home.

Sophomore middle blocker/ outside hitter Gray, freshman gymnast To and sophomore gymnast Kulcyzk have won national titles in Canada prior to donning the Cougar blue and white.

Compared to BYU athletes whose athletic résumés prior to coming to Provo may have garnered all-state honors or won state championships, résumés of Canadian athletes like To, Gray and Kulczyk may seem outrageous in comparison; but at the end of the day, their main focus is receiving an education.

Photo illustration by Haley Bissegger
Photo illustration by Haley Bissegger

The decision to come to America

Choosing to play and study in Happy Valley came down to a few different factors for the three Canadians.

“They don’t do collegiate gymnastics,” said To of the lack of gymnastics programs on the collegiate level in Canada. “They only have the more normal sports like soccer and football.”

For Kulczyk, competing at the NCAA Division I level is easier than the level of competition she participated in before coming to the U.S.

“Collegiate gymnastics is different from club. It was so stressful,” said Kulczyk, who finished first in vault in the 2012 Canada national championship.

Gray, from Calgary, was recruited by BYU women’s volleyball head coach Shawn Olmstead through a mutual friend during a club tournament in Canada. Like To and Kulczyk, Gray holds her own with national titles under her belt in club volleyball.

“I always wanted to go to the States,” Gray said of taking advantage of the opportunity Olmstead presented her. “I like the culture.”

What’s different

Studying and playing in a foreign country comes with its share of surprises and differences, as the three can attest.

For Gray, the dating culture in Provo was something new since it was almost nonexistent back home.

“I never went on a date until I came to Provo,” Gray said.

Gray, who leads the BYU women’s team with 3.97 kills per set, also pointed out the difference in food options in Provo compared to her hometown.

“A lot more variety. They don’t have Cafe Rio, Costa Vida and Zupas,” Gray said of the Canada dining-out experience.

Getting used to large portion sizes and speaking English every day was a new experience for Kulczyk, whose first language is French in her native Montreal.

Bits of advice

Kulczyk, Gray and To shared their advice to women who have the opportunity to compete athletically in the U.S.

“Do it. You can always be a normal person after,” To said. “You can’t be a normal person then come back to gym.”

For Gray, it’s important to realize there will be differences in experiences between athletes.

“It’s not the same for everybody,” Gray said. “It’s a different atmosphere at the collegiate level.”

In the end, the experience is something to be cherished and valued, and the sacrifices required to leave home and compete as a Cougar are worth it to the three athletes.

“It’s such a great experience. It’s worth it,” Kulczyk said.

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