Watch above: Competing against the best in the country would rattle most, but a University of Saskatchewan men’s volleyball player isn’t phased with the Huskies hosting nationals this week. As Aaron Streck reports, Robert Graham has pushed himself to excel on and off the court.
SASKATOON – Every athlete has a story on how they got into their sport but fourth-year Saskatchewan Huskies volleyball player Robert Graham’s is different than most. The six-foot six middle back was diagnosed with high-functioning autism when he was six years old.
“Emotions are a hard thing to understand with people with autism … it’s one of the side effects and I think it helps me play better because it keeps me more focused on the game … all I can do is just focus on one thing and that’s the game,” said Graham.
At the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) level, there aren’t many student athletes in Graham’s shoes. He isn’t only a key member of the Huskies but a regular on the dean’s list.
“He’s put his head down worked hard and as a result he’s playing in a CIS national championship representing his university and will graduate soon with an education degree,” said Huskies Athletics Director Basil Hughton.
“He’s gone from a kid who was rolling around on the side walk on Broadway in the midst of a conversation we were having with friends to a kid that’s just become very, very disciplined in his life,” said his father, Tom Graham.
Robert’s dad Tom, who used to coach the team he now plays on, has been an inspiration for the 23-year-old.
“In my past life and even today, people doubted me in school especially, sports even sometimes as well, but my dad was always the one to show hope in me,” said Robert.
The Huskies athlete has also been inspiring people all around him.
“It’s just really nice to see him embrace life the way he does with the approach that he takes to it. He never forgets the least of these and he’s always wanting to support others, he’s just a real team player both on the court and in our family,” said Robert’s mother, Anne-Marie Graham.
With his work ethic he hopes to one day bring that enthusiasm to his own classroom.
“His motivation to become a teacher is to inspire others and to help and support others … I think where he is today, the credit goes to him … but it also goes to a whole community of people that supported him,” said Anne-Marie.
With a year of eligibility left to play volleyball after he graduates this spring, Robert hasn’t made up his mind if he will return to the team next season, but whatever the decision is he says he won’t be letting up.