Lean on family, community after heartbreaking losses

Januel Ibasco kept his goals in sight despite the deaths of his mother and grandmother, and was inspired to explore his Filipino roots

The traditional Indigenous game of Back Push sees two competitors seated on the ground back-to-back with their arms locked. The object is to stand up together but push your opponent out of a designated area. The goal of a children’s version of the contest is to simply communicate and lean on each other so that, eventually, both kids are standing.

Januel Ibasco
Januel Ibasco

Indigenous games were at the heart of an undergraduate research project Januel Ibasco did when he was a third-year Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation student as part of the course KRLS 323: Aboriginal Peoples and Physical Practices: Canadian Perspectives.

For the study, Ibasco conducted a literature review exploring the importance of traditional Indigenous physical activity for Indigenous youth. He found a myriad of benefits, including increased cultural pride and rediscovery and a deepened connection to family.

“This is just a simple game for younger children, but it teaches kids the importance of leaning on those around you when things get hard,” he said.

Unfortunately, Ibasco had learned that lesson – the value of seeking support in times of need – first-hand four years ago in the most heartbreaking way imaginable. A month before he was to start his studies at the U of A, his mother suffered a hemorrhagic stroke and died.

The university offered the grieving Ibasco the option to defer his start but he decided to soldier on. “With education being so important to her, I wanted to continue on and get busy with school,” he said.

Barely two months into that first year, the Ibasco family suffered another tragedy when his grandmother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.

“Right after my classes, I’d go to the hospital to be with her and take over some of the care,” he said.

His grandmother died just a couple of days before final exams started. Again, Ibasco had a chance to defer his exams. He chose to push through.

“With all the challenges, I definitely leaned on my friends and family – particularly my dad, my sister and my girlfriend – all of whom helped me cope and encouraged me to do what I needed to do,” he said.

“Despite losing two important people in my life, I believed that getting an education and becoming more involved in the community were great ways for me to move forward from these challenges.”

And move forward he did. Ibasco – who graduates this week with a bachelor of arts in recreation, sport and tourism (BARST) with a minor in sport and recreation management – directed his lifelong love of sport and recreation into an interest in the business of sport.

“I came out of high school looking for a program that mixed both business and sport,” he said. “I believe the BARST program is a hidden gem at the U of A.”

Academics wasn’t the only thing on Ibasco’s mind during his time at the U of A.

The death of his mother and grandmother inspired a desire to explore his Filipino roots. Their stories of the Philippines, of coming to Canada before he was born and of the vibrant Filipino community in Edmonton made him want to strengthen his connection to the culture.

Ibasco put his penchant for writing to good use by volunteering with the Alberta Filipino Journal. There, he started out with a column reflecting on different multicultural events around Edmonton and then morphed his space to feature Filipino businesses across Alberta during the pandemic.

“It’s all volunteer work, but it’s something I’m passionate about,” he said. “I just like meeting new people in the community.”

Ibasco also volunteers with the Recreation for Life Foundation, an Alberta charity that promotes recreation as essential for enhancing individual well-being, community vitality, economic sustainability, and natural resource protection and conservation.

“Leisure and recreation are the few things that a lot of people do in terms of relieving stress in our lives,” he said. “The foundation really hammers home the message that the only way to get through the difficulties we all go through is to take time for ourselves, to engage in leisure.”

Ibasco will start law school at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., in the fall. His main focus will be sports law, but he’s also considering immigration law, something that has been on his mind since he was an adolescent listening to stories of his parents’ immigration woes trying to come to Canada.

“This pursuit of law has inspired me to be part of the solution for immigrants,” he said.

Before heading west, Ibasco will spend the summer helping to spread his love of golf as an ambassador with Edmonton’s River Valley Junior Golf Club.

“We’re trying to grow the game of golf in the greater Edmonton area,” he said. “Our main values are integrity and respect – because we believe how you carry yourself on the course will translate to how you carry yourself off the course.”

As for the U of A, he said he will miss his time on campus developing his passions and, maybe, more importantly, helping build community.

“It can be daunting to meet new people, but it’s important to put yourself out there, get involved. If you’re willing to do that, the benefit will be surrounding yourself with not only like-minded individuals, but people coming from different backgrounds and expanding your worldview.”

| By Michael Brown


This article was submitted by the University of Alberta’s Folio online magazine. The University of Alberta is a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.

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