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An alum having a ball with the Toronto Blue Jays

Jaime Vieira
Photo courtesy of Jaime Vieira

For as long as she can remember, University of Guelph-Humber Kinesiology alumna Jaime Vieira has been passionate about baseball.

She grew up an avid sports fan in general, taking every possible opportunity to play volleyball, basketball, or hockey. But softball was always the priority, and when a spinal injury temporarily left Vieira unable to play at age 16, she coached instead. One way or another, she found a way to stay close to the diamond.

But she never dreamt that she would one day turn this passion into a career. Now a Program Specialist for the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jays Care Foundation charity, Vieira has actually found a job in her dream field – and she’s still pinching herself.

“I truly feel like everyday at work I am making a difference,” Vieira said. “I am very thankful I was given the opportunity to learn and grow as a professional at Jays Care.”

Covering her bases

When Vieira first started attending UofGH, her goal was to become a physiotherapist. Rehabilitating her spinal injury had stirred Vieira’s interest in health and physiology, and she had learned from her coaching experience that she enjoyed helping people achieve their goals.

Vieira’s own rehab had a happy outcome. After a three-year break from baseball, Vieira had been encouraged in her second year at UofGH to try out for the Humber College softball team. She tried out and made the team. (More than four years later, she continues as an assistant softball coach with the Humber Hawks varsity softball team.)

At the same time, Vieira’s professional goals started to change. After completing field placements at chiropractic and multi-disciplinary medical clinics while a student at UofGH, she decided that physiotherapy as a career was not the right fit for her. Through her studies at the University of Guelph-Humber, she had discovered a love of conducting research. Further, she thrived during her third-year biophysics and biomechanics courses. So she decided to push deeper into sports science.

After graduating from UofGH, Vieira went on to earn her Master of Science from York University. Her thesis was titled “The Impact of a Dynamic Trunk Axial Twisting Task to Fatigue on Musculoskeletal Responses.” In simpler terms? Vieria’s research looked at the softball swing.

As it happens, her studies and softball intertwined serendipitously again as her players became her research subjects.

“I got my athletes from Humber to come to my lab at York and they swung until they couldn’t swing anymore,” she recalled. “I loved looking at the data, evaluating the data, and taking what I learned into coaching those athletes.”

Vieira was interested in continuing on to complete her PhD. But when she saw a job opportunity with the Blue Jays’ charitable foundation, she knew she couldn’t pass it up.

Having a ball

Vieira wore her Blue Jays jersey and cap as she submitted her job application. For a lifelong fan like Vieira, her job is a joy. As just one example of the perks afforded to working for the Blue Jays, she recalls participating in a company softball tournament right on the bright green Rogers Centre field.

“That was the coolest thing I could have imagined,” she marvelled.

The only thing cooler for Vieira? Getting the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people.

Founded in 1992, the Jays Care Foundation promotes baseball as a tool to teach children skills such as teamwork, leadership and resilience. Vieira works with youth across Canada to overcome barriers to playing sports.

“We work with girls without access to sports, Indigenous communities, kids with disabilities, and kids who are at or below the poverty line,” Vieira explained. “We give them opportunities to play a sport, learn teamwork, learn all the life skills that everyone needs to play sports, and then we give them access to gain those experiences.

“This is a job where I get to work for the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre and I get to teach girls how to play baseball and give access to sports for girls who don’t have it.”

In the same spirit of seizing opportunities that led her to the Blue Jays, Vieira got the chance to attend Major League Baseball’s Take the Field conference, an event for women who want to pursue a career in MLB. One of 50 women selected to attend, Vieira got to meet coaches, front-office staff, scouts and others with valuable insight into what it takes to succeed in baseball.

“These are people who are living the dream in positions that I want to be in someday,” she recalled. “They gave me advice on how to persevere as a woman in sports. They all had their ups and downs and they gave me tips and advice I will carry forever. It all was based around seizing opportunities, taking risks, and putting yourself out there. Because if you don’t try, you’ll never know.”

The conference was inspiring. And when it comes to her future, Vieira isn’t shy: she’s swinging for the fences.

“I do still have the passion and drive to work in the front office for an MLB team,” she said. “My career goal would be to pursue a role with the MLB that allows me to use my biomechanics, coaching, and analytics with a baseball team.”