Life is unpredictable. Goals come and go, and so do the opportunities to reach those ambitions. Our experiences can lead us down some uncommon pathways, but for one Gee-Gees Hall of Famer, living an out of the ordinary life is more than okay.
Hannah Sunley-Paisley is a former star of the Gee-Gees women's basketball team, playing all five years of her U SPORTS eligibility here at the University of Ottawa. Between 2007-2012, Sunley-Paisley managed to reach the OUA's top-10 all-time in both points and rebounds. She was recognized as a U SPORTS all-star three times and was awarded the Nan Copp U SPORTS player of the year during her fifth-and-final season with the Gee-Gees. That same year she led her team to become OUA Champions, they finished with a bronze medal at Nationals.
Sunley-Paisley's accolades earned her a spot in the Gee-Gees women's basketball Hall of Fame, inducted in 2014. However, life post-graduation was not as easy as you would think for the 6-foot-1, star Center. There was no professional setting for her to pursue in Canada, so she looked to Europe to advance her basketball career. Her first season, in Germany, was such a poor experience, that Sunley-Paisley was so discouraged she returned home to Canada. She looks back at the decision with some regret.
"For me, I think quitting basketball in 2013 after my first pro season was a mistake. It took me two years to realize that mistake and start training again."
But, we are humans after all and we are prone to making mistakes. Sunley-Paisley wishes she wasn't so quick to leave Europe, but the way she see's it, it was all a learning experience. She explored different opportunities and "met a lot of amazing people" in her time away from the game, so she is glad she got something out of it. Upon reflection, she brought up her favourite quote from Robert Frost; "Ever tried, ever failed. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
She added, "I think that we are bound to fail and learn and fail better…I would rather have both the regret and the experiences that came from that choice than neither"
Now, Sunley-Paisley has taken that experience and let it shape her, and she is back in Europe playing the game she loves. In 2016, she signed with a team in Paris, France. One of the things she likes most about her new team is the down time that lets her explore her passion, writing.
Being an author is something the former Gee-Gee never could have imagined when she was younger, but she started to write before leaving Ottawa, and while she was in Germany she attempted her first novel. Writing continued to be something she focused on during her hiatus from basketball, and she feels lucky that her second experience in Europe is allowing for her to get deeper and deeper into the stories she wants to tell. Hannah published her first novel, Magic Required, in December 2018 in what she hopes will turn into a series of fantasy novels.
And yes, she did mention she didn't envision being a professional athlete in Europe while simultaneously being an aspiring author. When asked if this is where she thought she would be five or ten years ago, she had this to say:
"I thought I would already be famous by now! Just kidding. No, this isn't where I thought I would be... mostly because I had no idea where I would be. At the time I really wanted to coach university basketball. I don't want that anymore. I have no desire to work as hard as Andy Sparks does. I'll be a starving artist instead... or famous."
The multi-talented Alumna is a testament to the characters that uOttawa produces, and Hannah Sunley-Paisley is an excellent example of everything a Gee-Gee should be. A risk-taker with skill and work-ethic, she knew she was never one to choose the ordinary pathways that life presents us with.
"I never really gave myself another choice. I always knew that I never wanted to have a 9-5 type job. Working off of that doesn't leave you a ton of options. When an opportunity comes up, I kind of have to take it! I'm still scared when I make these risky decisions but if the alternative is a 9-5, I choose fear."
Finally, the successful and experienced former Gee-Gee had some advice to part on to the current generation of the University of Ottawa.
"To the athletes specifically, this is the best it's going to feel. Cherish these moments," she said. And for the students everywhere, she felt it was important for everyone to just be who you want to be.
"As long as you're not hurting anyone, do what you want and be who you want. Don't let society fit you into a box of who you should be because of your sport, gender, ethnicity, or whatever."
If you would like to know more about Hannah or her book, Magic Required, you can head to her website www.hspaisley.com, or follow her on Instagram and Twitter @hspaisley