#YearOfYou with Sarah Hagkull: Finding Strength and Resilience Through Sport 

Jan 29, 2024

At viaSport, we’re passionate about capturing authentic, diverse, and influential stories from all in the BC sport community. The following story is a part of our #YearOfYou series, which focuses on telling stories from individuals from varying experience levels and walks of life. 

Sport is for everyone: getting involved in sport not only improves long-term health, but shapes well-rounded, resilient individuals. Participating can help you build meaningful friendships, find community, and positively shape the course of your life on and off the field. Learn more about #YearOfYou and how to start your own journey in sport here. 

Sensitivity warning: mention of gender-based violence


Moving across the world and relocating from Dubai to Victoria, BC at 11 years old, Sarah Hagkull’s parents searched for ways to help her integrate into her new home. 

Sarah immersed herself in sport; she was faced with the choice to try out for the soccer or rowing teams at school — but given her “lack of ball-kicking prowess,” her choice was decided.  

“The inaugural day of rowing tryouts marked a milestone: running 5km for the first time in my life! I embraced the intensity with a drive I hadn’t experienced before,” Sarah shares. “I found a love for the sport that instantly captivated me — I was utterly hooked.”  

Sarah found a safe haven in rowing, which became a constant solace in her life, even during difficult times. ” It wasn’t merely a sport; it was my refuge, my safe place where I felt valued and embraced.”  

Sarah triumphantly finished her rowing career at St. Michaels University School (SMUS). Her team had finished third place in the 2x and secured a commendable fourth-place position in the 4x. 

Transitioning to the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, her sporting journey continued to flourish. However, amidst the highs, a sudden turn in her personal life presented a challenging chapter, causing her to red-shirt her first season. 

Sarah is a survivor of gender-based violence. With the trauma of what she had gone through at the time, Sarah explains she had to make the difficult decision to take a semester off from school to focus on her recovery. Sarah was supported by her decision, especially by her coach at the time, Kevin Harris. “Kevin Harris was amazing; within an hour, I had all the paperwork to put my life in Tulsa on hold and focus on my healing,” Sarah shares.  “All that mattered to him was that I had the support I needed to be able to rejoin the team the following fall; I had a sport on the team for when I returned, whenever that would be.”

Sarah spent the next six months in Victoria. “I pressed pause on my academic pursuits and rowing career, grappling with the aftermath of a traumatic experience. The road to recovery was arduous, demanding patience and resilience.” 

Despite Sarah’s hiatus from formal competition, she still found strength in sport during her healing journey. “While my school and rowing endeavours were momentarily halted, the essence of the sport remained an unwavering companion, playing an irreplaceable role in fostering resilience and aiding my journey toward healing and restoration.”  

This time reinforced to Sarah that she could not do it on her own. “Life is hard no matter who you are, but by surrounding yourself with those who are truly there for you no matter what, life does get just a little bit easier.” Sarah acknowledges how she would not be where she is today without everyone who has supported each chapter in her journey.

After taking some time to heal, Sarah returned to Tulsa the following Fall to compete for another season; however, after the season was over, she chose to medically retire since competing at the Division 1 level became impossible due to her PTSD and Anxiety diagnoses.  

In Sarah’s journey, many obstacles came her way, but she remained positive. “Sport to me is more than just a game or physical activity; it’s been my lifeline, my safe harbour through life’s storm,” Sarah shares. “Sport has been a constant source of resilience and fortitude, guiding me through the toughest of times.”

In this transformative journey, Sarah’s high school rowing coach, Susanne Walker Curry, also played a pivotal role in guiding and supporting her through the highs and lows over the past twelve years. Sarah reflects on the invaluable impact Susanne has had as she now works alongside Susanne as a coach at her high school alma mater.

Sarah credits sport as the reason she could overcome life’s hurdles and encourages all to embark into the world of sport. “Find your safe place within your sport; let it be your sanctuary where you can grow, thrive, and become the best version of yourself,” says Sarah. “Sport isn’t just a hobby; if you trust the process, it can be a teacher who can shape your life in ways you never imagined.”  

If you or anyone else you know needs support in navigating a safety in sport complaint, please visit our Safety in Sport page to access our Flag Toolcomplaints management resources and mediation services. For a list of general PlaySafe BC resources, please click this link.