Black Excellence: Saroya Tinker, unapologetically herself

Photo credits to the Metropolitan Riveters.

Oshawa, Ont. – A hockey town through and through.

This is how 23-year-old Saroya Tinker describes her hometown of Oshawa, Ont. Born in 1998, Tinker played house league hockey for Oshawa Kingsview of the Oshawa Church Hockey League until she was eight. This was before she transferred into the rep system playing a season with the Oshawa Lady Generals.

As many hockey players do, Tinker credits her parents, Harvel and Mandy Tinker, for getting her started in the sport.

“Both brought me to all of my hockey practices,” Saroya said. “My parents were definitely most important in that sense, that they were the ones that really pushed me to go as far as I did, and to help me reach the level I am at now.”

One step in her journey included playing four years of NCAA hockey at Yale University, from 2016 to 2020. At Yale, Tinker was able to still play hockey but was also a student taking a B.A. in History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health. She says she also learned a lot about herself as a person while at school.

“I grew up in a very Christian conservative home, whereas when I entered Yale, it was kind of a whole new field for me. I think that for me, as a woman growing up into that atmosphere, it really helped me to have a new outlook, on life in general,” she says. I was involved in so many things on campus, so many groups I had no idea even existed, or certain cultures, certain practices, all those things. All of my friends were of different ethnicities, races, gender, and I think with that I have an incredibly open mind now.”

This is the birth of Saroya the advocate. She says she never had any problem speaking up for things she believes in within the home, but the things she was exposed to while studying at Yale gave her the courage and the voice to start doing it publicly.

“I would say my junior and senior year at Yale, I really found my voice and figured out who I was as a woman, and came into my own in terms of just deciding who I was going to be moving forward in a professional setting,” Tinker says.

Finding her voice made it easier for Tinker to find the respect she deserved in the places she was.

“I think that Black women need to often have a wall up, to fit into certain stereotypes, but also to stand out and make us respected in those spaces,” she says. “So I think for me, I really wanted to gain that level of experience and gain that respect from my counterparts so that they would respect my voice and my opinion.”

Something else that stood out for Tinker, especially when hitting the ice, was not having anyone to necessarily look up to, she didn’t have “a Wayne Gretzky to look towards.”

“I think for me, as a Black woman, I didn’t see as much pressure in terms of being Black in the sport, but more so put pressure on myself to kind of prove people wrong,” Tinker says. “The only pressure came from when I was trying to prove to people that I did belong in the sport.

Tinker says there have been moments that stick out to her where she has felt like she belonged.

“I would say the one time I actually did get a deep breath was just with my pro team when we were able to have an uncomfortable conversation about race and gender in the sport,” Tinker says. “I’ve never been able to have that over my 20 years of playing hockey, so I think just the fact that we can see these actionable changes happening in there, in real-time and these conversations are being had is enough for me at this point.”

Tinker now plays pro hockey for the Metropolitan Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League and took part in the recent Lake Placid bubble tournament.

Her mom Mandy, couldn’t be more proud.

“As a parent, it has honestly been so amazing to see our daughter grow up to be such an incredible human being on and off the ice,” Mandy says. “Her struggles with fitting in at hockey definitely weren’t easy to see her go through but she always handled things with such grace and integrity.”

Mandy is also thrilled with how Tinker uses her platform through hockey, to advocate for communities who need it.

“She has become such an incredibly strong voice for [Black Indigenous People of Colour] BIPOC community on and off the ice. We love to see it,” Mandy says. “Despite her struggles, she has turned them into triumphs and it is so encouraging to see her grow and use her voice for good and to effect change.”

Part of this change has been partnering with the Black Girl Hockey Club (BGHC). Tinker has introduced the BGHC Scholarship, raising money to donate to Black girls who want to play hockey. The scholarship donates $1000, $3000, or $5000 to any Black girl around the world to help with the costs of equipment and ice time.

“Black Girl Hockey Club is just something that’s really close to my heart,” Tinker says. “I really wanted to raise money, to help with that scholarship fund and provide more girls with more money, and to increase accessibility within the sport.”

To join Tinker, and the entire BGHC, you can donate to the Scholarship fund and take the ‘Get Uncomfortable’ pledge if you haven’t already.

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