The summer before Dara (Friesen) Miller came to RJC, she was so excited, and nervous, that she spent hours hitting volleyballs at the side of their garage getting ready to join the team. Dara attended RJC from 2004-2007, and athletics were a core part of her RJC experience. We talked with Dara and she shared some of her memories and thoughts on what set RJC apart.
What was your experience like as an athlete at RJC?
Just the whole atmosphere of RJC and athletics is really special. It’s not something that I saw anywhere else, with the sportsmanship and the enthusiasm and the spirit that people had. I mean, we had people who would watch our games and they’re doing backflips off the bleachers and running by with flags cheering their hearts out. And we had anthems that we would sing. During one of our volleyball tournaments, for provincials we were all nervous, and then all of a sudden from the bleachers they started singing.
Why do you think the spirit at RJC is different from other schools?
I think it’s because of how small the community is, and because a lot of people live at RJC, if there’s a game that’s the thing to do in the evening. And I think everybody just kind of feels the adrenaline even if you’re not playing. It’s exciting! And then as much as you have your own team, the whole community feels like your team because you know, if you win the whole school is excited, if you lose the school mourns with you. I just have never experienced that anywhere else from coaching a lot of other teams.
Were there any sort of highlights or memories that stand out to you?
When I was in Grade 10, my first provincials we drove up to La Loche, and it was like blizzarding. It took us so long to get there. We had the most amazing opening ceremony, there were dances, I know our coach got presented with these amazing leather and bead gloves that were so soft, handmade. And we had an athlete’s village there because there wasn’t much for hotels. They had turned all of their classrooms [into rooms], they had bunk beds, and they had food and it was really incredible and that was definitely a highlight for me.
Volleyball was your main sport, were there other activities you did?
I played so many sports, I did music, I loved outdoor ed class, but for me volleyball was where my heart was. I had the best coach I’ve ever had. Like I said, I’ve played so many sports and Jesse Enns, he is the best coach I’ve ever had. I’ve never wanted to practice as much as I did when he was my coach.
I did play basketball in my Grade 12 year. That was strictly because I wanted my roommate Emily to play volleyball because we were short numbers, and we knew that they were going to be short numbers in basketball. So we decided, she played volleyball for me and I’d play basketball. And it was great,I loved it! Honestly, there’s nothing more humbling than playing a sport that you’re not as good at. I was a star player on the volleyball team, she was the star basketball player. And so then when you swap you’re like, “Oh, this is so unfamiliar.” It’s very humbling, you have to be very patient with yourself. It’s a good thing. I think everybody should try a sport that they’re not comfortable with. I think it makes you become a better leader in your own sport, because now you see it from another side.
Do you feel like there are lessons you’ve learned at RJC that stuck with you?
I was a bit of a hot headed player. Sometimes still in things that I do, as weird as it sounds, I hear Jesse telling me to slow down and go back to the basics. Just slow down, follow through, snap your wrist, just slow it down. Because I was so interested in power, power, power all the time. Even with parenting, I find myself thinking “take a breath. Slow down, it’s not all going to be easy.”
If you were talking to someone who was considering RJC, what would you say to them?
I hope that people who are really into athletics don’t write RJC off as an option just because it is a small school. The competition is great, the coaches are amazing and take the time to help develop players, and the community behind the team is unlike any other. It really was some of the best times of my life with countless memorable moments. When I think about all the sports teams I’ve ever played on, and there are many, my time playing on the RJC volleyball team is what stands out.
After graduating from RJC, Dara went to Canadian Mennonite University in WInnipeg where she also played on the volleyball team. She later coached volleyball at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, and went to school for interior design. Now she is married to Nick Miller, and is full-time parenting their two very active kids Robinson and Oscar. This interview was edited for length and clarity.