South Surrey’s Saje Brar, a member of the Vancouver Whitecaps’ REX program, will play this fall for Yale University. (Contributed photo)

Yale-bound soccer star has lofty goals on and off the pitch

South Surrey’s Saje Brar to play NCAA soccer this fall

Saje Brar isn’t one to set small goals.

Since her early teens, the South Surrey soccer player didn’t focus on obtaining an athletic scholarship from just anywhere – she had her sights firmly set on the Ivy League from Day 1.

And when it comes to school itself, her aspirations are similar. She doesn’t just want a degree, she wants a law degree. She’s interested in politics, too, but her longterm goals in that arena go far beyond winning a seat on a city council or serving on a local board.

She wants to be the prime minister.

“I know it’s a bit of a stretch… but that’s the ultimate end goal,” she said.

“But for now, all the steps in between are what I’m focusing on.”

And while a move to 24 Sussex Dr. in Ottawa may be a decade or three away, the Brar has checked off a few of the other items on her to-do list, so far.

In Grade 9, she moved from playing at the premier level with Semiahmoo Peninsula-based Coastal FC to the high-profile Vancouver Whitecaps’ REX (Regional Excel) program, in order to challenge herself and put herself on the biggest stage she could find in order to secure an NCAA scholarship.

A year later, she verbally committed to Yale.

In February, having obtained early admission into the Connecticut school a few months prior, she turned that longtime verbal commitment into a written one, signing a national letter of intent. This fall, she’ll head to the New Haven, Conn. campus, where she’ll suit up for the women’s soccer team while studying political science.

Brar, who moved from Elgin Park Secondary to Burnaby Central in Grade 11 in order to continue in the Burnaby-based Whitecaps’ program, had plenty of other offers from NCAA schools – Michigan, Pepperdine, Northwestern, among them. Other Ivy League institutions made offers too, she said, but Yale was the only one she visited.

But Yale was always at the top of the list. Besides, she had already verbally committed years earlier and as her father, Ron, told Peace Arch News, “Loyalty is one of Saje’s greatest hallmarks.”

“At the end of the day, my heart was in Yale,” she said.

As a result of her impressive soccer resume, both with Coastal and the Whitecaps, as well as with a number of provincial teams through the years, Brar could have, she admits, chosen a university with less strict academic requirements, which would have lessened her workload in recent years – especially last summer, when she spent two months cramming for SATs instead of enjoying some time off like many of her peers.

That’s not how Brar is wired, though – something she attributes to her time in the Whitecaps’ system, which is ultra-competitive and features top talent from across the country. Your spot in the program can be usurped by someone else at any time., Brar noted.

“For two solid months, while preparing for the Canada Summer Games, I studied for around six hours a day, and I wrote my SAT at the end of August, and thankfully hit the score I needed to,” she said.

“It was very hard… not a relaxing summer at all. It was the complete opposite – there was no, ‘Hey, let’s go to the beach and hang out.’

“You sacrifice things – family weddings, other sports, my brother’s and sister’s games… because I knew there was no wiggle room in an Ivy League school. If your grades aren’t up to par, you can’t get in.

“It was tough, but that’s the kind of environment I thrive in. It keeps you on your toes, but I can’t complain because it got me where I am today.”

Brar’s sacrificing for her sport – and her education – go far beyond last summer’s SAT cram sessions. In Grade 11, she made the decision to leave her friends at Elgin Park to go to Burnaby Central, and since then, has spent most of her time either training or studying.

A typical school day for Brar begins at about 5 a.m. Twice a week, she’ll attend early-morning gym sessions with her Whitecaps teammates – sessions which are followed by school until 1:30 p.m., and then on-field training until 4:30 p.m.

Only then does she head back to South Surrey, where she’ll sneak in a quick dinner before hitting the books until she goes to bed around 10:30 p.m.

“Then it just repeats itself the next day. It’s a never-ending circle,” she laughed. “A typical day is out of the question for me.”

The discipline and time management it takes to keep to such a schedule will serve her well at university, she figures, where she’ll juggle the responsibilities of a typical student-athlete. Or a politician, for that matter.

In the meantime, Brar said she simply aims to be a good role model in the community, and is keen to inspire other young girls who may want to play sports – or run for a country’s highest office.

“I just try to be someone people can look up to. It’s important to me, especially being an Indo-Canadian female who has been born and raised here in South Surrey,” she said.

“Maybe I can inspire some girl to join soccer and go to her dream school, because I was able to do it. Maybe they can see how much time and effort it takes, and then do it, too.”

Spoken like a true leader. Perhaps that prime minister’s gig isn’t such a long shot, after all.

“Aim big, you know?” she said.

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