By Madalyn Howitt
COVID-19 cut practices and playoffs, it’s cancelled the chance for competition and comradery, and the Godmaire brothers – Tristan, 19, and Justin, 17 – are as keenly aware of this reality as anyone.
The Ottawa volleyball and baseball players have now each felt the sadness of losing their senior seasons – Tristan’s last spring and Justin’s this year.
“We felt we would always have [the opportunity to] play,” said Justin. “Habits that we’ve created, locations where we would play every year – the pandemic kind of took that away from us.”
Yet their unique experience of being not only brothers, but also teammates and now students at the same university, has allowed them to be a steady source of support to each other through a difficult year.
The brothers were used to having packed schedules, especially in late spring when the baseball and volleyball seasons overlapped. They both still play for the Ottawa Nepean Canadians Baseball Club as well as with the Ottawa Maverick Volleyball Club.
Elder brother Tristan, a catcher with ONC and a libero with the Mavs, has taken his talents to Nippissing University, where he secured a spot on the men’s volleyball team last year and now studies social work.
After a few opportunities to practice in-person with his new teammates during the first semester, the provincial lockdown in winter meant he had to leave the school’s North Bay campus and return to remote learning from Ottawa. Going from five or six practices a week to practically nothing was very challenging.
“It was really detrimental, maybe even devastating,” he said.
Justin, set to graduate from Franco-Cité high school this year, shares his older brother’s feelings.
“This year, it was a lot of on and offs with whatever restrictions were thrown at us,” noted the ONC third baseman and “everything” player for the Mavs and Faucons. “We really had to adapt with that, which was tough.”
In the fall, Justin will join his older brother at Nipissing, where he plans to study health and physical sciences.
Réjean Godmaire has watched his sons grow up together playing on the same volleyball and baseball teams, as both their father and as their coach, and says the emotional impact of not playing sports has been tough to see.
“That social part of being with teammates and coaches is something you can’t underestimate,” said the career teacher. “It’s huge, especially in an adolescent life.”
The bond that his sons share as elite athletes, however, has helped carry them through the rougher days of lockdown, especially since being home together has given them more chances to be close.
“We’re pretty big on music – during the pandemic, we would just go on the computer and start making beats together,” said Tristan, who added that the brothers sometimes train together to the music they create.
“We’ve been playing on sports teams [together] for a while now, and I think the bond is just has just gotten better,” added Justin. “Me (going to) Nipissing with my brother is proof of that.”
The brothers are glad they’ll be attending school together, though Justin won’t join Tristan as a Laker next year. The lack of opportunities to train and perform for coaches in the last year has affected his skill level, he said, and a crowded roster of talented athletes meant competition for a spot on the team was fierce. Yet, while he would have loved playing volleyball alongside his brother, Justin is keeping a positive attitude going into next year.
“I have a passion for sports,” he underlined. “Even if I might not be playing volleyball at a university level, I want to help the team as much as I can, maybe by being a physiotherapist. Staying involved in sports is really important to me.”
Before they set off together to Nippissing in the fall though, the brothers are hopeful they’ll have one more chance to play baseball together this summer, especially since they will age out of the ONC league next year.
“It would most likely be our last opportunity to compete together,” highlighted Justin. “It’s kind of an outro to our sports careers.”
The brothers agree that a final season with a team they’ve each spent years playing for will offer them some closure after two springs in a row with no award ceremonies, championship games or team celebrations.
Looking back, Réjean said he’s proud of how his sons have supported each other through this year.
“It’s quite impressive, the way that they’ve been able to adapt,” he reflected. “They’ve been competing for a long time now and that that drive of a competitive athlete would definitely help anyone to be resilient and to persevere.”