afterwords: Chrissy Benz
Launching in celebration of UBC Okanagan’s 15th anniversary in 2020, alumni UBC’s afterwords is a digital conversation series that shares the stories of some of UBC Okanagan’s extraordinary alumni in 15 questions.
Meet Chrissy Benz
1. What education did you receive at UBC?
Arts – studied English Literature and Psychology. I took a break from school after an injury and worked before returning to complete my degree in 2004. So, I was actually an OUC Laker, but graduated with a UBC-O degree. #lakersforlife
2. Why did you choose to study at UBC?
My goal was to get an undergraduate degree and play varsity basketball and then become a high-school English teacher. Spoiler alert: I did not become a teacher.
3. Were you a Heat (or Laker) Athlete?
I played varsity basketball for the OUC Lakers and we were the first year of the new gym! I sustained a major knee injury at the start of my 3rd year, but still lived in the gym as I got a job as the Intramurals Coordinator. Earned many red Championship tshirts and we were all proudly OUC gym rats. After my injury, I took time away from school to work and I also coached volleyball and basketball at OKM, but returned to university just in time to graduate in 2004 with a UBC degree.
4. What is your favorite Heat (Laker) memory?
Favourite memories include the sing-alongs on long bus trips to Prince George with the men's team. It's hard to imagine, but with no cells phones or Netflix and just one VHS machine and a couple TVs, so we all had to watch the same show. I've seen "Larry the Legend" and "Come Fly with Me" more times than I can count. One on-court highlight was swatting away a 6'4" opponents shot in the old TWU gym in front of a packed crowd. The brick wall was so close to the baseline that I nearly decapitated the ref's head. Silencing a boisterous rival crowd and forcing the opposing coach to take a time out was a great feeling. But most of all I loved the comradery, especially between our volleyball and basketball programs. Now it's amazing to watch everyone in their careers and raising their own sporty kids!
5. How did you find balance between your athletic commitments and your studies?
There is no secret to balancing an intense practice and competition schedule with school. My first year, I actually lived at home in Lavington, studied at Vernon campus and then practiced in Kelowna. I drove that stretch of highway 4-5 times a week for either the 5-7pm or 7-9pm practices from September until March. In winter, I would often get home at 11pm in blizzard and then need to be up for an 8:30am class. I studied Literature and Psychology so the reading lists and essay writing was definitely a lot of work. The only way through it was pure commitment and determination to get all the things done that needed to get done.
6. If you could start University again, would you do anything differently?
I would focus less on “getting it done” and lead with curiosity. I should have taken more time to connect with some profs that I really respected: Lally Grauer (Indigenous literature) and Jan Cioe (Psychology).
7. What was your first official job after graduation?
Administrator at Pinton Forrest & Madden Executive Search – was so lucky to land there!! I could have stayed there my whole career and become a recruiter because I loved it so much, but the pull to work in sport was stronger.
8. What is the best part of your job?
I am the Alumni Relations Manager – Athletics and Recreation for UBC Vancouver.
I’m impressed daily by connecting with Olympians and community leaders who are inspiring not only to me, but for our students and young alumni who aspire to make a difference through sport.
9. What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career?
I just did a decade review and realized that I love taking on big jobs, so it can also be overwhelming at times. Having worked mostly in sport, my job is also my passion and hobby so I need to be careful to not burnout!
10. What would you like to share with current students who will be graduating in the coming years who have concerns with the current work climate?
I remember the panic and anxiety about finding a good job right after graduation, so can only imagine how much more intense this is for 2020 grads. First, I’d say take care of your mental well-being and ask for help if you are struggling. I can also share that my entire career came to fruition through my volunteer work – find what interests you, what problems do you want to solve and get busy! This is how I found my community and could showcase my skills (while learning new ones).
After a bad injury I was unable to compete and it was a very abrupt and difficult transition away from being an athlete. I was really lucky that a mentor encouraged me to coach. Through the relationships built there, I continued to work in sport administration. When I heard the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games were coming to Vancouver, I went online to sign up as a volunteer. The portal wasn’t open yet, but jobs were posted. There was a job in accreditation and I had volunteered for the Vancouver International Triathlon a few weeks earlier and I was doing accreditation (athlete registration packages). So, I decided to apply and miraculously got hired. During those 2 years, one of the volunteers in our program happened to be the person who had invited me to coach after my injury. When the Games were done, he said thought I’d done a great job navigating the international sporting world (our team worked with all the National Olympic and Paralympic Committees) and recommended me for a job in international volleyball … in the Dominican Republic. So, I can really say that volunteering has given me my career.
11. Do you have a mentor? How have they influenced you?
I don’t have one mentor and I certainly try to learn from everyone. I think Ray Kimoto (Basketball), Hugh Wong (Volleyball), Casey Forrest (PFM Search), Mark Starkey (Victory) and Charina Cruz (career coach) are people that I really admire and steal from their playbook as often as I can. I like to observe and analyze other’s behavior to see what I can learn from and try to incorporate in my own career and life. My mother’s big heart and my dad’s logical brain are often at the centre of what I do.
12. How and where do you find inspiration?
Literally everywhere. Sports, music, books and spending time in nature are the best places for me to either re-energized. Learning about other people’s lives is probably the most impactful to me – - not necessarily, a memoir, but from people in my life and community. Everyone has a story.
13. How do you balance your work and home life?
I don’t. Truly, the balance between my job, volunteering and raising my young daughters is virtually non-existent. It’s truly a bit chaotic, but somehow I enjoy this happy chaos.
14. Do you have any books that you would suggest are a must read
There’s truly too many! I would challenge people examine the unconscious bias they may have in their choice of the authors and stories.
- A Cure for Death by Lightning ~ Gail Anderson-Dargatz and Traplines ~ Eden Robinson (assigned to me in Indigenous Literature class)
- The Illegal ~ Lawrence Hill
- Mindset ~ Carol S Dweck
- Wooden on Leadership ~ John Wooden
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao ~ Junot Diaz
- Missing Sarah ~ Maggie De Vries
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack ~ Rebecca Skloot
- Flow ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- Born a Crime ~ Trevor Noah (past alumni UBC book club suggestion)
- Everything is F*cked ~ Mark Manson
And remember the classics too (Shakespeare, Jane Austen…) “The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the new ones.” ~ John Wooden
15. Who is one UBC Okanagan alumnus you would like to nominate for the 15 Questions series?
Joel Caschetto, Harvey Hubball, Hailey Bauer Funk, Tammy Thomas, Jackie Wong, Ann Richards, Aidan Lea, Brianna Beamish, Katie Wuttunee Ball
Are there any questions you wish we had asked?
Favourite memories of campus – The gym. As a varsity basketball player I built close connections with the teams that trained there and those friendships continue today (men’s and women’s volleyball and basketball were very close knit). We were the first year of “new” gym, so we really feel like it’s ours! It doesn’t quite feel the same now that campus has grown and the running track has been completed, so I’m very nostalgic about the gym back then. Additionally, I was the first intramurals coordinator so I pretty much lived there! I won countless championship tshirts (volleyball, basketball and indoor soccer) and even kept one! Shout out to all the OUC Gym Rats!