Student making waves on world water polo stage

By Costa Maragos Posted: August 14, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Eric Graham, a fourth year economics student, is a member of Team Canada’s university water polo team competing at the Summer Universiade Games in Taiwan, August 19 – 30.
Eric Graham, a fourth year economics student, is a member of Team Canada’s university water polo team competing at the Summer Universiade Games in Taiwan, August 19 – 30. Photo by Trevor Hopkin – U of R Photography

Eric Graham is about to make another splash on the world’s biggest stage in university sports.

Graham, a fourth-year economics student, has earned a spot on Canada’s university water polo team that will compete at the 29th Summer Universiade Games in Taipei City, Taiwan, August 19 – 30.

“It was really good when I received the news,” says Graham. “It’s nice to be recognized again and know that I can come back.”

This will be Graham’s second appearance at Summer Universiade, the second-biggest multi-sport event behind the Summer Olympics.

At 22, Graham is one of the oldest members of the team and only one of two players making a second appearance at Summer Universiade.
 
About 9,000 athletes from 170 countries will compete in 15 sports, including athletics, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball and of course, water polo.

Eric Graham Action Water Polo
Eric Graham in action. In between his economic studies at the U of R, Graham has competed around the world. He will join a semi-pro water polo team in France in Fall, 2017. Photo courtesy of Samantha Hendren
Canada is sending around 275 athletes to the competition.

Graham’s first appearance at the games was in 2013 in Kazan, Russia.

He was fresh out of LeBoldus High School in Regina when his registration for classes at the U of R qualified him a spot on the national team that travelled to Russia.

“It’s the best athletic experience one could imagine and not just for water polo players, but for all of the athletes. You don’t really appreciate it until you are there,” says Graham, who proudly recalls the moment Team Canada entered Kazan Arena Stadium in front of 45,000 cheering fans.

“I’ll never forget the opening ceremonies. It was overwhelming, almost euphoric. There was so much positive energy and good vibes. I felt like I was walking on a cloud. We waved to the people in the stands and the whole stadium waved back. It was magical,” says Graham.  “The whole soccer stadium was filled. The fans were cheering loud, the TV cameras, the people. It was insane. Putin was there.”

The road to the top in water polo started at a young age for Graham.

“I started in grade three. One of those little flyers was dropped off in our mailbox by the Regina Water Polo Association promoting lessons for kids,” says Graham. “I kept playing and kept moving up,” he says.

By grade eight, Graham was a member of Team Saskatchewan. He earned spots on national teams, competing across Canada and elsewhere including Croatia, Holland and Hungary.
Eric Graham Team Canada Water Polo
Eric Graham (2nd row – left) with the national University water polo team in 2013 at Kazan, Russia, competing at the Summer Universiade Games. He will wear Canada’s colours again at the 2017 Games.


During his last year in high school, Graham moved to Calgary to train with the youth national team and was a member of Team Canada for the youth worlds in 2012. He eventually made the Canadian university national team and a ticket to the games in Russia in 2013.

That same year Graham started classes at the U of R, taking a liking to economics.

“I like the psychology behind economics and consumer behavior,” says Graham. “I have liked the professors here. I’ve made some good friends, especially through the economics students association.”

After Russia, Graham concentrated on his studies but remained active with water polo, helping coach and referee.

Team Canada did not enter a team in the 2015 games.

This past year, Graham got the itch to return to the national team.

“I realized I missed playing a lot. That was it. I heard about the application in January from an old coach of mine. I applied. I trained to get in better shape. I was thrilled when the team list was announced and that I made the team,” says Graham.

The team includes players representing the University of Toronto, McMaster University, MacEwan University, George Brown College, St. Francis College, Pacific University and the University of Calgary.
 
“I’m a veteran, relative to the team,” says Graham, who hopes Team Canada will do better compared to previous games.

In the world of water polo, the powerhouse teams include squads representing Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Greece and Hungary.

“Going there, we are going to have fun and try to win the games that we know are possible to win,” says Graham.

Following the games, Graham will take a break from his studies to play with a semi-pro water polo team in Bordeaux, France.

He’ll be there with his girlfriend and water polo competitor Kelsey Jensen, a fourth-year accounting student at the Hill School of Business. Jensen will join a first-division water polo team, also based in Bordeaux.

They both plan on returning to the U of R to complete their degrees next year.

But for now, Graham is looking forward to wearing the cap for the national team where once again he will make waves before a global audience as a member of Canada’s University Water Polo team.

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