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Inside Stories: Both a Major League Athlete and a Stay-at-Home Dad

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COVID-19 Insights May 06, 2020
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In this episode Toronto FC Defender Justin Morrow talks about his life before the world changed so drastically as he was beginning another season of Major League Soccer.  After just two games – one in California and the second on home turf in Toronto – Morrow began adapting to a very different schedule.


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Inside Stories, presented by BMO, provides an intimate look into the lives and coping strategies of people during the COVID-19 era. From well-known North Americans through to the new everyday heroes at your local grocery store, these unusual times have impacted everyone. Host Scott Simmie asks the questions that count, prompting his guests to share their very personal, inner stories.



Scott: Well, whether you call it sheltering in place, self-isolation, or staying at home, we’re all doing it, but we’re just doing it in very different ways. On BMOs inside stories we’re asking interesting people from across North America how they’re coping with this abnormal. How has their routine been disrupted? How have their lives or even their perspectives changed? And what tips do they have that might help you. I’m Scott Simmy, on behalf of BMO it’s my privilege to speak with people about how they’re weathering this storm and to share their experiences with you. So, welcome to Inside Stories.

Scott: Today on Inside Stories, I’m pleased to be speaking with major league soccer player, Justin Morrow, a defender with Toronto FC. Justin has had some truly incredible years with the team, including 2017 when it captured the MLS cup, the Supporter’s Shield, and the Canadian Championship. This year marks his seventh season with Toronto FC; and Justin, I’m, I’m guessing for obvious reasons, this year is shaping up like no other.

Justin: By far, Scott, you’re right about that. I’m happy to be on the podcast, thanks for having me.

Scott: Thank you. So, the 2020 major league soccer season was basically just underway when things were postponed. I think Toronto FC had played two games, one down in California with San Jose Earthquakes and New York City FC here at BMO field. You were on the field for, for both those two games and when you finished that game at BMO field, did you have any idea that it would be your last for, it looks like, now several months?

Justin: Yeah, we as professional athletes kinda had a unique view of it, and especially being in soccer, having the leagues over in Europe kinda shutting down a little bit before we did. They were already playing games without fans. And so, we, we were thinking that we might have played that first home game without fans. We were able to squeeze that one in and it was a nice little memory to, to get a good win at home for what has been our only home game so far this season, but we knew that pretty soon things were gonna change rather drastically.

Scott: What was it like for you personally when you heard that the season was being postponed?

Justin: I was happy about it. You know, us being in, in the North American sports landscape, we kinda go as the other leagues go, you know, and, and I remember coming into the locker room the morning after the NBA postponed their season. This was when the whole Rudy Gobert thing happened and we, we knew, you know? We came into the locker room that morning for practice and none of us got dressed, none of us got changed to go out in our cleats or anything, we knew that it was a matter of hours until the league was gonna be postponed. And I felt like the leagues made the right decision, they shut it down pretty quick and I felt like that was the right decision for the overall health of the, the general public because what we do is just not cater to, to how this virus has been hurting people.

Scott: It, it seems like a really long time ago now, but if you can think back, what, what would a typical day have been like for you during, during the regular season?

Justin: A typical day would be, well, I’m, I’m, haha, I have two young daughters so we’re always up early, you know? We do a breakfast altogether as a family. We do school drop-offs, I live over in Roncesvalle by Hyde Park and, and so we walk our girls to school and then I head up north to the training  ground, which is in Downsview. Spend majority of my day there, come back down towards the city and, and, and swoop the girls up and then we’re all home as a family by, you know, 5: 30-6: 00, and we’re having dinner, enjoying ourselves, our family time together a little bit before bedtime.

Scott: How much of that day would have been spent on conditioning and, and physical activity or, or practice?

Justin: Yeah, so we usually make it into the training ground by, by 9: 00, so once we’re in the building it’s a lovely setup they have there with proper chefs, you know, a full kitchen there, so we have breakfast and lunch there. We’re on the field by 10: 30 and we’ll probably be on the field for two hours. After that, we’ll do another 45 minutes in the gym, we’ll stop for lunch, and then after that individuals stick around for any type of physical therapy they might need. And so, that was my routine and that’s what a typical day would look like for me.

Scott: For, for just about everybody, you know, workplaces are a big part of our social lives. Could you shine a bit of light on, you know, your workplace and, and those relationships with, you know, coaches and your teammates? What’s, what’s, what’s that like and, and how important a part of your social life is that?

Justin: Yeah, as I mention—as you mentioned, this is my seventh year here in Toronto and so I’ve got a bunch of special relationships. You know, guys that I’ve grown really close to since I’ve been here. For an athlete, you, wherever you go, which city you go to you feel like you’re instantly included, included in a group of friends. So that’s what my wife always says, because we moved from San Jose. We got traded here and it was instantly, like I had a group to, to ease into. Whereas her it was, it’s a little bit tougher. So, you do have that to fall on and it’s a huge part of your social life, you know, you talk to these guys every day, you spend numerous hours on planes, in hotel rooms, weekends with these guys, and so they become really close relationships. And then the coaching staff as well, I’ve been, I’ve been with my coaching staff for a number of years now. The front office guys, the like I mentioned, the chefs, seeing them with a bright smile every morning and, and how they love being around the guys. You miss those relationships.

Scott: Are you staying in contact with, with those people or some of those people and teammates? Are, are you guys doing Zoom meetings, what, what’s happening right now?

Just: Yeah, so the team does a lot of Zoom meetings. We have workouts that we do over video. We do some yoga stuff, we do some running. Obviously the running is not on Zoom and we have spin bikes that the team has provided for us so we can do a little spin session together. So we’re still in regular contact with the guys. We get on in the morning and we have a little chat, a little banter goes on before we get started with the session. And it’s fun, it’s fun to see each other’s faces and like you said, those relationships are so important, so I definitely miss those guys.

Scott: Athletes, I, I think by your nature, you guys have to be so motivated and driven. Did you set some personal goals or how did you decide to tackle this once you realized life would be changing so drastically?

Justin: No, I’m just kinda rolling with the punches and, you know, taking a moment to enjoy the family time. My wife works at Dyson, she’s a financial analyst there and so the roles are completely reversed right now cause she’s at home working a lot, she’s got a nice home office set up and I am spending the majority of my day with the girls. That would be the complete opposite of me in season, travelling a lot, not being home, where the burden falls a lot on her. So, I’m just enjoying this time, you know, I’m soaking in the moments that I get with my, my daughters that I wouldn’t normally get. Enjoying the weekends and just trying to trying to take a breath, you know, cause I live a pretty fast paced life and so this is a unique opportunity and I don’t want it to pass by full of stress with all negative memories.

Scott: Nice. How, how old are your daughters and what, what have you been doing with them during this time?

Justin: My, my oldest is four years old and my youngest is a year and a half and I really like what TDSB has been able to do with their online portal, helping, helping my oldest out. She’s only in JK, but we spend a little time on there. You know, she’s starting to learn the sight words, you know, doing her counting, different activities that they have on there, so that’s been fun spending time with her and seeing what she likes to do. You know, she’s, she’s super into science. We bought this science kit where we mixed things up and she’s been super into that. And just to see what she likes has been really nice for me. And then my youngest is beginning to talk and so she’s soaking up words right now and that age is just so much fun because she’s repeating everything and, and we’re teaching her new words, and, and so both of them are just a joy to be around right now.

Scott: And I’m assuming you guys have a Dyson vacuum at home after hearing that?

Justin: Oh yeah, our house is full of Dyson products. It could be a Dyson store.

Scott: Are you, are you getting outdoors at all and are you running outdoors? I’m assuming that’s, that’s where you’re going?

Justin: Yeah, being so close to the lake, I’ve been running out by the lake pretty early in the morning before anyone else gets out and usually I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t run out there. I, soccer players like to stick to grass. It’s a little bit more forgiving on the, on the knees and the ankles and the hips. Usually concrete is our enemy, but I’ve kind of been embracing what I can and getting out there. To be honest, it’s a, it’s a beautiful run. I mean, that, that path right there along the lake is just fantastic in the, the mornings that the weather is nice and sunny, it’s just, I, I would find it hard to believe there’s any better place to go for a nice run here.

Scott: Do you have the moments, I think we all do, when you’re outside on a day when the sun is shining and you’re looking at the trees and the water and you’re thinking wow, it’s a beautiful day out here, but it’s not normal. What goes through your mind?

Justin: Yeah, you kind of forget about everything that’s going on, but me living where I do, I’m really close to St. Joe’s and one of the things that our street has adopted is coming out on our porches at 7: 30 and kind of applauding the, the workers, the healthcare workers. And that sense of community has been really emotional for me, you know, it’s one of the things that I love about Canada so much and, and one of the reasons why I fell in love with Toronto in the first place, but just to see everyone out there giving their support to the, you know, the healthcare workers, the people that are really battling this thing on the frontlines, it means a lot. And there was one weekend when the ambulances came by and they drove down our street and they had the, the lights on, the sirens a couple times, and it was really emotional. So, I’ve been enjoying that, that, that type of stuff just bring you back down to earth, you know, when you think that you go outside and everything might seem normal, but it’s really, really not.

Scott: Absolutely. Now I hear my dog barking in the background.

Justin : Oh yeah, I’m sure, I’m sure it’s not long until my girls burst into the room, so don’t worry.

Scott: I’m, I’m guessing here, but it would seem that in the build up toward a season beginning, there’s the physical conditioning, but you also mentally are preparing. You’re thinking, all right, team, you know, we’re gonna get going, we’re gonna start to play these games. And I guess I’m wondering if despite the fact that it was a good and necessary decision, obviously it had to happen that the season would come to an end. If there was a mental downside after all that buildup and preparation and then suddenly….

Justin: Yeah, I think so. I think right now the agonizing part is just not knowing. And, and in our industry I find it very hard, and I’m no expert, so you can take this for what it is, but I find it very hard to believe that we’ll play in front of full stadiums anytime soon. Like I said, it’s just not conducive to this virus and, and so really we’re just in the dark here and for guys that are used to being out, competing every weekend, having this clear goal of winning a championship at the end of every season, it’s tough, but like I said, I can’t complain at all. My family is healthy, we’re here together, and we’re getting time that we wouldn’t have got before, so I’m just really grateful that my family is healthy, my extended family is healthy, and I just want to give my support to all the families out there that have had a loss or a sickness and I know that people are going through tough times, so I really just try to keep everything in perspective and that is really what gives me that levity, because at the end of the day, sports are sports. And I know for the fans, because I’m a fan too, it, it, it gives people something to look forward to and it gives them excitement and so I do hope that at some point this year it’ll get back to, to normal. I just find it far down the road.

Scott: Now, this is audio only, but I’m, I’m wondering if there might be, you know, you’re an athlete, if there might be a simple workout routine that you could recommend that, you know, wouldn’t be too complicated and doesn’t require any, any special equipment.

Justin: Yeah, so, what I’ve been getting into now, especially being home, is creating a lot of content with TFC, staying engaged with our fans. And so, we have workout videos coming on the regular from each player, each player’s got their own workout that they like to do and those are coming up, I think there’s probably two or three on, on YouTube, you know, Instagram, Twitter already, mine’s coming soon, but what I would, so if you, if you’re looking for something in depth, I would say check that out. But, for a general guideline, when you’re going to do a workout, I would say think about targeting different muscle groups on different days. So, think about having a leg day and then next day maybe you do cardio and then the day after that you’re trying to do upper body. Some of the things I like to do for my legs in the house, I don’t have much equipment here, are squats and if you’re trying to get more explosive you can turn it into a jump squat and then if you’re getting even more progressive you can do a single leg jump squat. For upper body some of my favourite exercises are normal push-ups and if you want to get a little bit more advanced you can do a push-up on the ball. I like to do my push-ups on the ball with one hand on the floor, one hand on the ball and do my push-up and then I rotate the ball to the other hand. If you’re trying to get your triceps you can do dips on a chair, I think off the top of my head here. My girls, we’re always roughhousing in the house and so I’m picking them up nonstop and if you need to, if you need to, if you need to work with what you can, find something that’s a little bit heavy and you can do some bicep curls and so with them I’m always, you know, my shoulders and biceps are well taken care of.

Scott: Nice. Thank you for that. Now, now you’re a big reader. Is there a particular sports biography that, that you might recommend? A lot of people have some time to pick up a book these days.

Justin: Yeah. My favourite is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight and he, you know, he founded Nike and I find that whole story fascinating. He was an athlete in his own sense, but not the professional athlete biography that you might be looking for. I really like reading Pep Guardiola’s books, because he’s a very good coach and he gives good insight into his game. What he thinks about tactically, which is such a big part of the game, the soccer game these days and so those are the, my two favourite ones.

Scott: Excellent. Now, I don’t have a bell here at home and I did not get out to a store, but I do have a drinking glass. So, this sound means we’re about to head into the wrap up of this, a little rapid fire round. So, I’m going to ask you a series of brief questions and hopefully you’ll provide a series of brief answers. So, Toronto has been home for seven years now, what’s the best thing about Canada to you?

Justin: The people, by far. That’s an easy question for me, because I was taken aback when I first got here and I’m still taken aback now. Just I would mention the sense of community here, everyone is enjoyable. Everyone treats each other like they want to be treated and I really enjoy the diversity here. I think there’s people from all over the world and they really welcome you when you first get here and I’ve just found that really heartwarming.

Scott: That’s awesome, we’re very happy to have you. What, what does it feel like in that instant? Because most of us will never, ever know this. What does it feel like in that instant after you score a particularly challenging goal before a home crowd and everyone kind of goes wild?

Justin: Most of the time it’s pure joy and I say that because when you’re a kid, no matter what, if you’re a defender, if you’re a midfielder, if you’re a forward, you always think about that moment of scoring a goal. The ball hitting the back of the net, the fans reacting. That’s what gives the fans the most joy when they’re watching a game and to ha—to be the one that produces that reaction, to see a whole stadium react to you like that, there’s no better feeling. There’s other times where it’s just like a release of emotion, you know, there might be things going on in your life off the field that you’re dealing with, some struggles that you’re going, going through and you get that goal and it’s like an emotional breakthrough and then it all just releases and you can see in the types of celebrations that guys have. So, most of mine are just pure joy and I’ve had a couple of those emotional releases as well.

Scott: Who do you look up to? It can be any person in any field.

Justin: First and foremost is my parents just because I think they raised me in such a good way and they, they brought me into this world under difficult circumstances and their, their honesty and their steadfastness shown through all the way from the beginning and I just think they’re incredible role models and I am in touch with them all throughout this time, which has been nice. They’re safe and so I’m so happy about that. And then, apart from that, I, I just like to study people that have done big things, you know, successful people and I think that if I can take a little bit from each one and, and apply that to lessons that I’m going through in my life, that it will make me a better person, so I’m always trying to learn and evolve.

Scott: This one just popped into my head, but you strike me throughout this interview as just being really grounded and, and really calm and I’m wondering if there’s any sort of mental exercise or spiritual thing or something that, that you feel, that you turn to that, that helps you keep that, keep that sense?

Justin: There’s no routine, there’s no breathing routine. There’s, there’s no meditation that I do. I’m very in tune with my body, which I find helps a lot. I’ve been able to stay pretty fit throughout this, these runs have been, sort of, therapeutic for me that I’ve been able to get out by the lake and spend some time out there on the road. That’s what’s helping me in this moment, but I think it just goes back to being grateful for what we have because I think there’s always someone in a worse position than you and if you can have that big view perspective, then I think it’ll keep your mind sane, and like you said, grounded and in a good place.

Scott: Great and final question, what do you plan on doing when all of this is over that you can’t do right now?

Justin: For me I cannot wait to get back to BMO Field and win games in front of that crowd, I miss those guys so much. I’m—like thinking about the summer coming up, the beautiful nights that we have at that stadium when it’s packed, it’s full of just wonderful people, families coming out, bringing their kids. It’s just a nice environment and I miss that dearly, so I cannot wait to get back to doing that.

Scott: And, and we can’t wait to go there and watch you do that. Justin Morrow of Toronto FC, thank you so much for this, we really, really do appreciate it. It was so kind of you to share your time and your Inside Story with us today.

Justin: Thank you.

Scott: Wow, what a super nice guy. Before I go, a few quick things. One, thanks to BMO for presenting this. Hope you enjoyed today’s episode. Two, subscribe and enable notifications. That way you’ll get a PING when the next episode is ready. Three, take care of yourself. This really is an extraordinary time and it’s going to last a long time, so please just look out for yourself and those you’re close to. Stay safe.

Scott: You’ve been listening to Inside Stories, I’m Scott Simmy, thanks for inviting me in. I’ve really enjoyed leaving my house and visiting yours.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the participants and not those of Bank of Montreal, its affiliates, or subsidiaries.

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