For some folks, sport is all about competition.
For others, it runs much deeper than that.
When it comes to Erica Bota, please don’t mistake that inner connectivity with so much of the environment that forms the very backdrop of her athleticism for an unwillingness to go toe to toe with those who prefer that scores always be kept.
The truth is that she, along with both her older brother (Alex) and older sister (Melissa) all dabbled in varsity sports at the post-secondary level.
Between Erica and Melissa, the sibling tandem would capture no less than eight individual SDSSAA badminton titles during their time at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School.
The youngest of the family would achieve a level of mountain bike proficiency that would enable her to comfortably race at the Elite level provincially, her venues of choice extending all the way to New Zealand as she completely immersed herself in the sport for a stretch.
Yet in very main ways, the manner in which the 33 year old graphic recorder (more on that very unique career choice later) currently approaches her athletic involvement reflects directly on the very early starting points for this always active south end trio.
“I have so many memories of always being outside - we were kind of that non-TV family,” said Erica, now residing in Squamish (B.C.), her sister also a provincial counterpart, practicing psychiatry with Vancouver Coastal Health. “We had to find our own entertainment, but we lived so close to trail networks.”
“We would always play games and be competitive with one another, ever since we were little.”
With parents (Jane and Gary) being huge proponents of the entire spectrum of outdoor sporting activities, the Bota clan would soon find their way to a local circuit that caters well to both recreational and competitive athletes.
“Mom was part of the Sudbury Canoe Club; dad was a runner and cyclist,” said Bota. “We got really involved with the Sudbury Fitness Challenge series; my parents sort of built a community around the Sudbury Fitness Challenge group. I remember running races and getting ice cream at the end.”
The highlight, for Bota and others of her ilk, would come in early August, the annual tradition that has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. “We loved the Beaton (Classic) - we would do it every year,” she noted, alluding to the family involvement with the uniquely northern Ontario quadrathlon.
“The Beaton was so important to me that I selected it as my heritage project and got to meet Billy Beaton. It was a big part of how I related to Sudbury.”
Through the high-school years, some preferences emerged. There was soccer, courtesy of Sudbury Panhellenic or the Sudbury Canadians, while nordic ski and badminton were the winter sports of choice. But there was always that counter-balance, the offset where general physical activity would leapfrog the more traditional organized sport system.
“I think I spent the most time, out of my entire family, exploring the trails and just feeling connected with the land,” said Bota. “I think about it all the time, even now. That was the most special place for me on earth.”
Though she would spend four years with the nordic ski team, joining Alex at the University of Guelph, Erica also soon found another calling, changing seasons completely. “In second year university, I joined the mountain bike club and I began to flourish again,” she suggested. “I met some kindred spirits in that world of mountain bike racing.”
Not surprisingly, seeds had been sown in this particular garden in her youth.
“My dad and I would mountain bike together from time to time,” said Bota. “I had done my first mountain bike race through the Sudbury Fitness Challenge. I knew the trails really well, just from always running them, and then I had the chance to experience them in a different way, riding my bike.”
“It opened up a whole new world for me.”
And just as quickly as it opened, it suddenly closed, Bota falling victim to a bit of a burnout factor, having taken her training to an extreme.
By this time, the entire troika were moving along nicely with life. Alex had moved to Ottawa, his own three kids very much replicating his childhood experience, with dad jumping into the nordic ski coaching ranks with the Chelsea Masters and very briefly, the racing rabbits program of Nakkertok Ski Club.
As for Melissa, her sister had very few worries. “She would excel academically, she would excel physically, she would just excel,” said Erica with a laugh. A liberal arts degree from Williams College in Massachusetts would be followed by more schooling at the University of California - Berkeley, before older sister decided to obtain her medical degree from McMaster University.
Erica would follow a different pathway, her studies in Human Kinetics (Guelph) leading initially to a short stint as an exercise therapist. Looking to dabble in sustainability and leadership, Bota would meander. “I just kept pulling on this string and following it wherever it was leading me,” she said.
Working on her masters in Sweden, she would finally enjoy her epiphany, professionally speaking.
“I met a woman who was a graphic recorder and had that “ah-ha” moment in my life,” she stated. “I couldn’t believe how clear things could be for me, how I could understand things in a different way. Really, we work with anyone who can benefit from information being visualized, being put into pictures.”
“We take a concept, put it into pictures, add a bit of humour here and there and make the information digestible.”
We, in this case, are ThinkLink Graphics, the Toronto based company that has allowed Bota to find synergies between her career and her lifelong approach to sport and physical activity.
“There is so much magic in the world that is outside of ourselves, and so often, we just don’t know it’s there unless we start forming a connection with something or someone,” said Bota.
“When I am doing sports, and running and exploring and being outside, being in green space with other people enjoying these spaces, there is so much potential to unveil some type of magic that you might otherwise miss.”