Catherine Traer is ready for this weekend’s inaugural FIBA 3x3 AmeriCup 2021 Tournament. The 27-year-old Chelsea, Quebec native, currently living and playing in Spain, cannot wait to arrive in Miami, Florida, to be reunited with teammates Paige Crozon and Michelle Plouffe, as well as welcome Kacie Bosch into the Team Canada 3x3 fold.
The tournament will serve as just the third event that Traer has participated in since welcoming her first child, son Isaiah, this past April. Traer made her return to the court for the FIBA 3x3 Women’s Series Montreal in September and then participated in the FIBA 3x3 Series Bucharest Final in October, where Canada finished second.
Because training camps have been few and far between in the past 20 months, whenever the team gets to play together is special. Getting to reunite with Crozon, who Traer calls a teammate, friend, and role model, is extra special for the new mom.
“Paige, obviously, I was in touch with all year in my pregnancy, and afterwards I really wasn't planning on coming back to play 3x3 so early, but they needed a last minute sub, so that's why I stepped in,” Traer said. I thought to myself, ‘If she can do it, you know, why can't I?’ I feel great. I obviously know that every woman is different in their recovery from giving birth, and it all depends on how your whole pregnancy goes, and the birth itself. But I was pretty lucky and I felt pretty good, and I really did ease into things for the first two months [back].”
In addition to Crozon being a trusted voice through Traer’s return to the court post-pregnancy, she was also the first contact for Traer when she decided she wanted to get involved with 3x3.
“I remember being in Vancouver in 2019 and watching the girls play their first tournament,” Traer said. “And I kind of just fell in love with it right away. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, like, what is this court for? How do I get in?’ I was really blown away and we hadn't heard much about it other than 3x3 becoming a new Olympic sport.
"I knew Paige from previous national team experience, and I messaged her and I was like, ‘Hey, I'm going to shoot my shot here. If you ever need a sub, let me know, I would love to play this. This looks really fun.”
It didn’t take long for Crozon to get back to Traer with an invite. After Plouffe suffered a hand injury, the team needed a sub to fill in. Crozon reached out to Traer and a few weeks later, Traer was with her new 3x3 teammates in France for her first tournament.
Like the rest of the sports world, the pandemic brought things to a halt in 2020, wiping out all tournaments for the rest of the year. When Traer found out she was pregnant, she knew she wanted to continue playing after the arrival of her son. Though there were lots of questions that would arise surrounding how and when to return to the court, Crozon was there, having gone through the process a few years prior.
Crozon, 27, found her way to 3x3 after becoming a mother herself. Following a decorated career at the University of Utah, Crozon played professionally in Germany for a year, and then welcomed her daughter, Poppy, now three. As a first-time single mom with a newborn baby, even just a handful of years ago, Crozon wasn’t sure where or how basketball was going to fit into the equation and then she found her way to 3x3.
“I actually had my daughter after [my first season in Germany],” Crozon said. “It was difficult to kind of navigate going back and playing pro and going overseas with a little one.. I obviously still love to play… I wasn’t ready to be done playing. And then there ended up being the 2019 FIBA 3x3 Women Series for the first time ever.”
Crozon wasn’t new to 3x3, having played for Canada in the first ever 3x3 Youth World Championship in 2011, nor was she a stranger to Plouffe, who had been her teammate at the University of Utah. These two pieces helped make the rest of the puzzle come together quickly, and soon Crozon was on the team.
“I ended up playing in the women's series in 2019 and brought my daughter along for the whole circuit,” Crozon said. “I think she went to Europe four or five times that year, it was pretty great.”
Getting to show her daughter examples of women excelling in sport every day is something that means a lot to Crozon. Learning that Traer credits her with helping to make her own return to the court easier means everything to Crozon.
“This actually makes me a little bit emotional,” Crozon said. “Thinking back to when I was going through that, I didn’t necessarily have time to think through it. My daughter is so great, but the vision isn’t clear when you have your child in the middle of your career as a professional athlete and as a woman. I'm really touched that she brought that up and that it helped her navigate her return to play. I was so excited for her when she told me she was pregnant. And did everything I could to support her mom-to-mom. I’m touched that it actually helped and that she benefited from it.”
Traer is the latest member of the team to welcome a new addition, but 2021 was a year of new arrivals.
“After 2019, we were a team of six that year,” Crozon said. “In 2021, three of our teammates gave birth to their firstborn. It’s exciting that I have photos of them with Poppy when she was a baby, and now have photos of Poppy with their babies. It’s a special bond. They were so much a part of Poppy’s first year, her upbringing. She has all of these incredible role models.”
Helping to make the transition back to playing easier for new moms is something that Crozon feels passionately about.
“It’s something that was very important to me,” she said. “Through that first year [after having Poppy], not having a lot of opportunities as a professional athlete and player, as a woman and a mother, I remember thinking, ‘I hope this changes.’ So I’m glad that, even in the three years since I had Poppy, it feels like there is way more support for women in that position, which I think is very positive.”
In those three years, Crozon has managed to make basketball fit into her life in more ways than she could have imagined when she was first navigating things back in Germany. In addition to playing for Team Canada’s 3x3 team, Crozon is also an assistant coach with the Lethbridge Pronghorn women’s basketball program, as well as the manager of the Living Skies Indigenous Basketball League. Though she says traveling with a newborn Poppy was challenging at first -- needing to have her mother come along on 3x3 stops with Poppy so that she could remain close to her daughter and continue breastfeeding -- these days, Poppy happily accompanies her mom to the gym, taking in all of the action.
“Paige, I think, sets the bar very high,” Traer said. “She's a single mom and, for me, the biggest inspiration because I look at her and she's working two full-time jobs and she had her daughter at home full time until she started going to daycare. I really think that like she sets the bar so high, she's just the hardest worker. You know, she goes out and takes on 3x3, and she's killing it. I just constantly look up to her.”
When Crozon isn’t coaching at Lethbridge or keeping up with her own training for 3x3, her work with the Living Skies Basketball League is at the forefront. Though the league was pushed back due to the pandemic, things are beginning to get underway and Crozon couldn’t be happier to help provide opportunity through sport for youth who need it most.
“I think having access and opportunity is super important,” Crozon said. “We remove the barriers by its free entry, we cover the cost of travel to tournaments and we provide snacks. I knew I always wanted to use my experience in sport to make a positive influence or be a vessel for positive change.”
In addition to her work on the court with players, Crozon also makes time to speak with youth about how sport has impacted her own life.
“I got a call from a mom last week who said that her daughter listened [to my story and told her that] she wants to play 3x3 now,” Crozon shared. “Hearing those stories really gives you goosebumps.”
One of the things that makes 3x3 so unique is the level of personal discipline that is involved. Because teammates are often scattered around the globe and are not practicing together regularly, it is up to the athlete to keep up with workouts and motivate themselves to do the right things to stay competition ready. Though it can be tempting to skip out on the gym, Traer says it’s a love of the game, coupled with the pride of representing Canada, that makes it easier to remain committed.
“I'm grateful to play the game, if it's five-on-five or 3x3, and every opportunity to put the Canadian jersey on is an honor,” Traer said. “I’m just so, so grateful to do it. And I think Paige is a huge reason why I do it because I look up to her and I just want to be that super mom, just like her.”
This weekend’s tournament is the inaugural FIBA 3x3 AmeriCup 2021. Held in Miami, Florida, the trek will be a long one for Traer, coming in from Spain, but getting to hit the court with her Team Canada teammates makes the trip worth it. Canada enters Saturday’s competition as the number one seed.