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Laura Gibbs | Taking your shot

Oh. You’re a girl…

I grew up on a farm in small town Dauphin, Manitoba with my parents, older brother, and younger sister. I could usually be found following my dad around the yard or riding in the tractor with him. And when the work was done, we might go hunting or fishing. It didn’t matter what he was doing, I wanted to be there. My brother played hockey and hunted with dad and I wanted to be just like him. They would take me with them when I was too young to hunt myself and I’d chatter away and wonder why we didn’t see any deer. A tomboy through and through (a term I thought was specifically for me because my dad’s name is Tom).

STANDING OUT

I wanted to play high school football and hockey like I wanted to take welding and automotive, but I was too scared about not fitting in, so I never took a shot.

They say that when you’re growing up, your first friends are your cousins. Looking back at my childhood, besides my siblings this was true for me. All of the cousins I was close with when I was growing up, were boys—hockey-playing, hunting, fishing, skateboarding, quadding, snowmobiling, exploring, and troublemaking boys. Thus, I wanted and did all of those things and I don’t remember feeling ‘different’ because of it until I was about 12 or 13. I was really into skateboarding and ringette when I was in Jr High and there are two incidents from that age that really stand out in my memory and made me feel bad about who I was.

The first happened in Jr High when we could skateboard in the gym on certain days at lunch. The first time I finally got the courage to go, I got made fun of the entire time I was there, so I left and never went back. Luckily, I could still use the airport hangar and my dad had a couple of massive workshops at the farm with concrete floors, so I kept at it. I was never very good, but I enjoyed it and I still have my board.

The second incident happened in an arena the first season I FINALLY got to be the goalie. We were always a consolation team the first few years I played and the year I finally got to play goal full time we also went through a coaching change. Those were just a couple contributing factors to the success we started to find as a team and the wins started to pile up.

We were playing in a tournament in Winnipeg and the other teams were caught off guard to say the least. Winnipeg had an actual ringette league where they played regular games during the week and practiced. We were a team from Dauphin who practiced twice a week together and went to weekend tournaments a few times a year.

One of the teams had complained to the league that our new goalie was a boy and we should be kicked out of the tournament.

We had won the first couple of games in this tournament and were in the dressing room getting ready for the semi finals when our coach came in and asked me to step outside the room to talk. Our coach was my best friend’s dad and my mom was our team manager. One of the teams had complained to the league that our new goalie was a boy and we should be kicked out of the tournament. I had been mistaken for a boy countless times before, so that was nothing new, but this one hurt more than usual, and I knew it upset my mom, which didn’t help. Things got sorted out and we took home our first gold medal. We went on to take the silver medal in provincials that year, but I’ll never forget that incident.

When the time came to start selecting optional classes for high school, I was drawn to the trades-related courses. Art, music, cooking, computers… no thanks. I wanted to take welding, so I signed up, but when I started talking to people about it I realized I was the only girl enrolled. Already overly self-conscious, I quickly switched out and into a computer program and band. I suffered through grade 9 and 10 band and then dropped it for some extra math courses to fill my credit requirements.

Like most kids, I loved and hated high school. My group of friends was amazing and most of us keep in contact to this day. Many of us played sports together and hung out together outside of school often. My teachers were great, even though I could be a real nuisance in class. Some of them were more like friends that, whether they meant to or knew it, helped me through figuring out who I was at the time.

I was always torn between fitting in and doing what I wanted. I wanted to play high school football and hockey like I wanted to take welding and automotive, but I was too scared about not fitting in, so I never took a shot. Some of my friends have daughters who are in high school now and they are doing all the things I wish I had the courage to do back then and it makes me a little jealous, but mostly so happy and proud of them.

TAKING HER SHOT

Obviously automotive is something I was meant to do and I ended up in the industry about 15 years ago. Working my way through the ranks up to becoming a well known and well-respected service manager through the industry—not an easy task for anyone, never mind being female.

Everywhere I’ve worked since taking that roll has had its challenges with coworkers struggling to come to terms with a female boss. There’s always pushback until they realize gender has nothing to do with the job, but some never do. Then there are some customers: “Can I talk to one of the guys”, “You don’t understand, I need to talk to a mechanic about this, not you”.

I don’t think that will ever go away, but I’ve been lucky to have superiors that have backed me up 100% in those situations. Hopefully one day women in positions like mine won’t need to be ‘backed up’ because the customer is more trusting of a man’s word over hers. Last I checked vehicles aren’t gender specific, regardless of whether it has a boy or girl name.

I still play hockey, hunt, fish, and do all the ‘boy’ things I loved doing when I was younger. Except skateboarding, I’m sure I would break something if I tried that again. For the most part, it doesn’t bother me what people think of me for doing them, but every once in a while, a comment will come out that stings. Luckily I know I’m not alone in feeling that way and I know that as a group, we will change the world.

If I could go back and do it all over again, I’d take my shot every single time, regardless of how I thought people would perceive me. The truth is, they probably didn’t care as much as I thought they did.

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