Convocation Profile: Autumn Moronchuk

 

Born and raised in Edmonton, Autumn Moronchuk became the first person in her family to attend university when she was accepted into the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation’s Bachelor of Kinesiology program in 2015. After spending her childhood watching her brother Ben—who was a competitive wheelchair basketball player—participate in as many sports as he was able to, Autumn took her passion for active living and began her university journey with the goal of starting a career in physical activity and fitness upon graduation. 

Her first sociology of sport class changed Autumn’s mind.

“I realized there was so much more I can do with my knowledge and degree. I became very interested in how gender and sport inform each other, and through this interest, I developed an appreciation and passion for research.”

This appreciation for the research side of sport and physical activity started to form a new direction for Autumn, and she began to connect her life experiences with her education.

As a competitive wheelchair basketball player, Autumn’s brother Ben represented Canada at the 2016 Rio Summer Paralympics on the men’s wheelchair basketball team. As Ben pursued his Olympic dream, Autumn was right by his side. It was here that Autumn was exposed to the world of adapted physical activity and elite para-sport. It was also here where Autumn saw much more marginalization than she ever expected.

“The amount of ableism and discrimination these athletes experienced because of their disabilities was shocking and very difficult to witness. Being a part of that community and having those experiences drove me to want to research the issues that members of the wheelchair basketball community (especially women) face in order to try to help stop them from happening.”

Autumn’s research interests were supported by long-time KSR professor Judy Davidson, who encouraged Autumn to apply for KSR’s Roger S. Smith Undergraduate Research Award. Upon receiving the award, Dr. Davidson continued to support Autumn’s interests by mentoring her and eventually directing her interests into a full research project. 

Autumn spent her practicum in Davidson’s lab continuing to work on her research project, which explored women’s experiences in para-sport. Her own experiences showed her that female perspectives in the para-sport community are often overlooked, which exposes issues such as sexism and ableism. Autumn interviewed athletes and coaches in the adapted physical activity and para-sport community and analyzed their responses along with relevant research in the field. 

Through this project, Autumn realized that there is a large gap in the literature around women’s experiences in adapted sport and physical activity.

There is not a lot of research regarding women’s experiences in wheelchair basketball at elite levels that has to do with their experiences of sexism and ableism. As I conducted my research I realized that women who experience a disability are not in positions of power in these para-sport organizations, which must change, and that we need more female coaches who experience disability as well to be role-models for young athletes entering the community.”

Her undergraduate research experience and the findings from her project have ignited a fire beneath Autumn, who plans to pursue first her Masters, and eventually her PhD in the fields of adapted sport and physical activity, and gender equality in sport so she can explore and teach at the university level. 

For now, Autumn joins the rest of the 2020 Spring KSR graduation class experiencing her convocation in her own home, through her computer screen. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in the plans of many students who are graduating this spring, but Autumn is still taking the time to celebrate all she has accomplished throughout her degree.

“Being the first person to attend and graduate university in my family, I was really devastated that I would not be able to celebrate in person with my family and walk across the stage with my peers. However, whether we have an in-person ceremony or not, this is still a momentous achievement and we all deserve to be proud of what we have accomplished.”

Whether she celebrates at home in isolation or at the Northern Jubilee Auditorium with thousands of people, Autumn can be proud that she has made the most of her undergraduate experience. She combined her life experiences and education to inspire her career path. She has grown a network of friends and colleagues with whom she’ll remain in contact with for years to come. She has given back to the University of Alberta community through various student volunteer opportunities--such as the BKin representative on the Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation Student Society. And, she has committed to applying her passion into making the world a better place. 

“As I continue my career, I want to come up with solutions in order to make adapted sport and physical activity more equitable for all genders and gender identities, and help create safe spaces where all para-athletes can train, learn, grow, teach and compete in a welcoming and inclusive environment.”