Mariah Fujimagari in action for the Pod in Lake Placid. Photo courtesy Connecticut Whale

MARIAH FUJIMAGARI: TAKING THE HOLISTIC APPROACH, TO EVERYTHING

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." John Muir

That quote by naturalist John Muir has long been a favorite of Cetacean Nation, and it serves as a great prelude to the thinking, philosophy and holistic lifestyle of our Amazing #37 Mariah Fugimagari. As you read on, you will learn about some of the strands in Mariah’s life that when pulled on by our questions, revealed strong connections indeed. But before we got to any questions, we congratulated Mariah on her recent engagement and she responded

 “Thank you! We are both very, very happy. During these times of Covid, it’s really just been beautiful to come together and have that to celebrate. And to have that as a silver lining for ourselves, and also for our families. So that’s been great! It’s been really interesting to see some people, even at the beginning of Covid a year ago, doing their ceremonies over Zoom or Instagram even. It was like: Whoa! What a time we’re living through”

Lending creedance to the old saying “Love will find a way” we suppose! We had a slight technical glitch with our phones during the start of our interview, which Mariah gave us some help on. We responded that now we know : Call Mariah for Tech Support! She laughed and said  “Actually we had a pretty good joke on the team while we were in the bubble, about Maddie Bishop, because she does tech support. We’d yell: Maddie we need your help for tech support!” It was pretty funny. That’s one benefit of us all having daytime jobs! “  Fins Up to that!

On January 31, 2021 Mariah became the 16th goaltender in Connecticut Whale history. And some of the holistic nature of Mariah was revealed in her answer to our question as to how she became a Whale. She explained “I think that it is such an incredible time to be in the pioneer phase of the NWHL and women’s hockey, and to continuously work to increase the profile of women’s hockey. It’s such an amazing sport and we have so much to showcase. And so much inspiration to provide for these younger girls. And along the way I think it is just really cool to hit these milestones of your specific playing career, and of the league itself as a whole. It was interesting that I was able to get my first NWHL win last year (Season Five) with the Beauts when we were able to beat Connecticut. My journey in hockey has never really been rooted in one place, and I love that about my journey specifically. I’ve gotten the opportunity to play in various different countries with various different teams. And I’ve been surrounded by so many different incredible teammates along the way. In Buffalo, it was interesting times coming into the pandemic. We didn’t know what was going to come of it all. And the Isobel Cup Championship had gotten postponed, and then cancelled eventually. I was just kind of looking at what the future was going to look like,”

She continued "There was a lot of uncertainty, so I just took what I could in my control. It was a lot of visualization, a lot of training , getting creative with workouts. Working different muscle groups than I had before and isolating.specific things in my game that I wanted to work on. Things that you don’t typically get the time to work on during the season.Because you are busy traveling on the different road trips, and working the day jobs. So it was kind of nice to have that time to focus on the details of my game, and really evaluate how the season went. And moving forward, I was looking at teams in the northeast. I played in Massachusetts the year previous with the Worcester Blades, and obviously with going to the University of Maine, I was along the east coast, so it was a natural progression. My fiancé and I, his family is from Massachusetts, we decided to go back there and kind of get our bearings during the uncertain time of the pandemic. That’s also when I was reaching out to the different teams. It was a great opportunity to just reach out and see what the team’s situations were looking like during that time. And it just so happened that I had a conversation with Amy (Scheer, Whale GM) and with Laura (Brennan, Whale Assistant Coach). And it was just really apparent right from the get go that our core values really aligned. And our vision really aligned as well with what they were looking to add and bring into that locker room. I embodied the qualities they were looking for and they welcomed me to the team with open arms.”

This past season was a season like no other for all the NWHL players, and none more so than for Mariah. Besides being a member of the Whale, Mariah also served as the NWHL’s emergency back up goalie (EBUG) in Lake Placid.  A unique year for her, we remarked, and she agreed

 “It absolutely was. It was a year where you just have to be adaptable. And I think that was the biggest piece that allowed me to really take that perspective of flexibility. I knew it was going to be a different year, just with how professional sports were trying to jump back into it during the summer months. The NHL creating a bubble, and just everybody trying to make it work. And no one knowing exactly how to navigate it, just kind of learning as you go. And I just really embodied that moving forward as well. Just to be flexible, take it day by day and really enjoy the journey, you know? It’s not everyday you get the opportunity to play with such an incredible organization like the Connecticut Whale. And I was fortunate enough to have that opportunity come about. And I took full advantage of it, always showing up and giving 100%. every single day. I have a lot of faith and trust in my journey because I’m so passionate about hockey, and it has given me so much. And so, for me to be able to give back to the sport and give my all, is easy."

Prior to entering the NWHL with the Buffalo Beauts for Season Five, Mariah as she mentioned, had played for the Worcester Blades in the CWHL. There she was a teammate of another future Whale, defender Erin Hall. Mariah commented  “Hallsie was a great teammate up in Worcester when we made that transition from Boston. It’s great to cross paths with former teammates from different organizations. We’re all here for one reason really, and that is to grow the sport of women’s hockey, and to take our careers as far as we can. So yes, a great connection there"  Mariah and Erin faced off against one another in the season opener in Season Five. In that game  Mariah allowed just one goal, recorded 28 saves, and was named second Star of the Game. It was not the only great performance by Mariah that season, and she was selected for the All-Star game by Team Dempsey. She shined under the bright lights in Boston, allowing just a single goal while between the pipes, and winning the fastest goalie competition. Mariah recalled  “It was incredible to be selected for the All-Star team my first year in the NWHL, I think it just makes me speechless thinking about it, to be one of the four goalies selected to be there. And to win the event that I was in (fastest goalie competition) and to win the game with Team Dempsey, it was just an incredible experience all around. Vert professional on the NWHL’s part. Just such an incredible weekend”. 

So Cetacean Nation was curious how all this got started for Mariah, and with her height at 5’11”, if she had tried any other sports, particularly basketball. She replied

 “Definitely being tall gives you the advantage of trying a lot of different things. And definitely just because I was tall, I got selected to play basketball. In my elementary school, and my high school for a couple of years as well. But overall I think what was really great about my experience growing up was that my parents gave me the opportunity to be introduced to all sports. I’m so grateful for that because it gave me the athleticism as well as the different characteristics that you pick up from each one of those sports.So I was able to create an understanding that no matter what sport you go into, there are going to be amazing life lessons that you were going to learn. Different challenges, obstacles and adversities that you’re going to face along the way. But ultimately it was really from day one honestly, that I was going to chose hockey to be my primary sport. I loved being on the ice! I learned how to skate my first winter basically. I was right on skates with my brother on the backyard rink. And we just spent hours out there. I started out with those little two bladed skates that your shoes just go right into the little booties. We did that until we didn’t have a backyard rink anymore. So it was many fond memories of the backyard rink, and our neighbors coming over. But just my brother and I constantly improving., and having fun with it. That was the best part. So I loved that.” She continued “And I actually competitively figure skated, and played hockey, They were my primary focuses, along with soccer. So I had two summer sports that I focused on and two winter sports that I focused on for about a decade. My winter sports were hockey and figure skating and my summer sports were soccer and swimming. And I competed in all of those at a very high level. But it ultimately came down to having to pick one, if you really want to take this to the next level. And I got to that fork in the road where: Ok, what’s my favorite? And it was a no brainer. I wanted to be on the ice nine out of seven days a week!” she laughed "Sign me up for everything! It was really a simple decision for me in my life to decide to take hockey to the next level. And to put all my marbles in one bag kind of thing.”

Mariah hails from Markham, Ontario in the greater Toronto area, and tended goal for the Markham-Stoufville Stars. Cetacean Nation wondered how it was that Mariah ended up playing her college hockey at the University of Maine. She related this interesting tale of how that came about, Interesting also in the fact that she has never told it before!

“I went to various different prospecting camps, and when you’re playing hockey in Toronto, there are often a lot of eyes on you. Because of the density of hockey players in the area, when you are at tournaments over the weekends. So I was at a prospecting camp on the outskirts, in the Niagara area, it was called Elite Prospects. It was a great showcase, to be able to have a lot of scouts that were out there watching you day in and day out for five or six days. We were on the ice for goalie sessions, skills sessions, and we obviously had games and practices, It was just a great opportunity. There were a lot of girls there from that weekend that I went on to play against during my career.. And it turned out there were a actually a couple of girls from the University of Maine. College students that came to the weekend as coaches and stuff.as well as the scouts that were there for the teams. So I just remember sitting down on the grass and just chatting with one of the Maine girls about going to University of Maine. And I was just picking her brain, asking her different questions about the things that stood out to her about the culture, and the environment of the school, and what she was studying. Just the day to day campus life, to get a better picture of what it was like for her. So that conversation, and my conversations subsequently with the coaching stall, it just really all came together.. Pieces of the puzzle, it was exactly what I was looking for. Other schools that I was recruited by and how those conversations went, it just wasn’t a full puzzle. And so it just made sense for me to go to the University of Maine. They had a program I wanted to study, Nutrition and Agriculture. The culture was everything that I stood fo. All that work ethic, commitment, everything like that. And it was something I wanted to be a part of. So then when I went on my official visit there, it just made sense to me that I make that decision.”

Mariah added  "It’s not everyday, especially now during Covid, that when you are getting recruited and are there in a visit, you get a totally authentic perspective. I thought like we’re nowhere near the campus, and she just shared authentically what her experience was. It’s a good indicator when you hear the good, the bad & the ugly. You get a holistic perspective of what the experience really is for that student athlete and you can kind of visualize that this is what you want or maybe it’s a different program but you look into it. So it was definitely a unique experience to be able to spit ball with her and hear how her time was. And it just so happened that it worked out that what she was expressing was what I was looking for. At the time Maine was one of the top schools there that weekend that were recruiting me. And from all the schools that we had access to, speaking to the different girls on the team or just interacting with them. Or just having them run our skill sessions and just being part of our experience, it was very apparent to me then I wanted to take full advantage during that time to hear what her experience was.” So now you know, it was just a friendly chat on the lawn that led to Mariah’s decision to attend Maine. She had the ends out for the tie that binds, so to speak.

Mariah had once described herself as being “Passionate about inspiring and empowering people to live a healthy balanced lifestyle” We asked her about that, and about the fact that she was organic farm manager as part of her college education. She explained:

"One of my biggest philosophies in life is just to empower people to step into the fullest version of themselves, and allow them to flourish in every area of life. And for me, I’ve taken every opportunity and I’ve created opportunities where I’ve gotten to serve others. And to be able to take extra steps in their wellness journey to allow them to do so. So for me my experience with the farm was extremely incredible. Something that if you had asked me a few years before that it actually happened, I never would have believed that it but have become a reality. But I’m so grateful that it did. So when I was at the University of Maine I was studying nutrition. I had always been very passionate about nutrition and how you can use food to heal your body." (“Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food” as Hippocrates wrote in antiquity) "When I was at the University of Maine it was studying nutrition and agriculture and I always knew that I want to work in space of health and wellness. Both of my parents come from working in that space say something that was really ingrained in me from a young age to live a holistic lifestyle."

She continued “At Maine I was a “red-shirt” my first year, which meant I didn’t play in any games. But it also gave me an extra year of eligibility, so I was able to have five years at the University of Maine. So putting ththis together in my head i thought: I’ve got five years here and I’m going to finish my degree in four. So should I go on to do my Masters or should I take on a little bit more undergrad schooling? . I am a pretty ambitious person and committed to what I set my eyes on. So as I was reviewing everything, I said to myself that I didn’t want to pursue my Masters at the time, because I knew that I wanted to play hockey afterwards. And no one can play at the highest level in Maine, so I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do my Masters there, so that really wasn’t as much of an option back five years ago. So I said to myself: Let’s take on a little bit more. And so I took on a triple minor at the school. In Sustainable Living, and that was just incredible, and then also Sustainable Agriculture. So both of those, I ended up with a double minor, as the third one I ended up dropping. I got approached by one of my teachers who saw something in me. Sometimes it just takes someone to see a little spark in you to give you an opportunity. Similar to how I was recruited to the University of Maine. Someone’s got to see a little something in you."

"So the professor approached me and said: I’d like you to put your name in the running for being the manager of this farm, because it is run through the school. So I got a little more information about it, and it lit my soul on fire right from the get go. It was a project managing over 3 acres of land it was only going to be three of us working there. And it just so happened that all three of us were women, which I loved even more, all of us students in the agricultural program. So we managed that land beginning right from seeds starting in February and the green houses. Then we moved into plantings directly into into the ground starting in May. It was the full swing of things, 60 hour work weeks minimum, working the land. Doing everything from planting to harvesting and everything in between. So we managed these three acres of land and fed over 60 families. It was CSA, Community Supported Agriculture. So people buy in at the beginning of the season, and then they come in weekly to,pick-up the vegetables that we harvest.”

Mariah added “I was really intrigued with making that connection between the seeds and the fruit of your labor.Taking vegetables and being able to hand deliver them to the people who are going to be eating them. And to see their health become more radiant. See the effects what food really can do. It has a massive impact on peoples lives. So we had 80 shareholders on the organic farm.. It’s such a cool idea. And it just so happened that we had such an amazing year. The land was so fruitful, and we were able to,provide so much to the families. More than what we had ever expected, so we were so grateful for that. And it was such an incredible experience to be able to bond with the people on such a deeper level. In Maine, there is not that much out there, you see more deer than people. So it was great to get involved with the community during the summertime. Especially because most summers I was just going home to Toronto to train for hockey. But this certain summer, I was able to stay at Mains and be able to train there and be able to work at the farm.” 

Mariah working in the fields of the Black Bear Food Guild farm at the University of Maine

Cetacean Nation wondered what vegetables they were able to grow on the farm, and it turns out, quite a few. Mariah told us

"We were actually able to grow a variety of vegetables. We’re all able to grow just basically everything because we had high tunnels, which are basically like Green houses without the cement on the bottoms. So it is able to capture a lot more heat in the summer and even through the spring so that way we were able to grow things prematurely before putting it directly into the land itself when you are in colder climates. Were able to grow cucumbers eggplant summer squash winter squash scallions peas beets carrots garlic radishes, tomatoes, You name it, we were growing it"she laughed.

"We would write on a chalkboard like four cucumbers, three garlic bulbs, we would list it by portioning like that. We were able to do everything for managing our budget to purchasing the seeds to literally planting the seeds and start growing in the spring, harvesting that tilling the weeds. Literally everything. We were running around farm and because it was through The University of Maine we had the opportunity to do that for one year. I actually have a picture from one of my friends, who is finishing up his masters at the University of Maine right now. He said your picture is still up here in this hall on campus,. It was a picture me farming with my friend from the program brochure. That was awesome, so cool."

We askec if Mariah had been someone who had always liked to putter in the garden as a kid growing up, and she revealed

"It’s so ironic I actually had never grown anything in my life, before running the entire farm. For me it was all about taking these principles that I had learned and developed at that point, three years into my college degree. Taking all those things that you’re learning in your textbooks and you get the opportunity every once in a while to experiment with things like that. But even all my growing classes were not until the fourth and fifth years. Greenhouse Management, where I actually ended up winning the scholarship and the award for the best showing plants. So we were growing just various hydroponics, which means that they are grown in water, the roots themselves. And we also grew in pots as well. So I was fortunate enough to win that scholarship with the professor, and to know my plants to be one of the best. So that was great,  but it wasn’t until my fourth and fifth year that I wanted to have more of those practical applications and opportunities. And it just so happened that like anything in life. You  just show people that do you have the work ethic, the coachability, and the determination to really make it work and they’re more than willing then to let you develop those skills. And so I'm just so grateful for that opportunity to take what I had learned and put it to practice at full force like that."

"Coming from living in the city, really the greater Toronto area, and then moving into Maine, it was already a big big cultural jump. To take it one step further and really be able to live off the land like that and be able to run the Black Bear Food Guild, that’s what it was called, it was really incredible. To see it come full circle in a very unexpected but incredible way. Usually to be a manager of a farm entails one side of it. But my experience was so unique because it was all encompassing. We were doing every single facet that you need to do in order to run a successful farm. It was an agricultural project that was all based on sustainability. All the processes we were doing were very sustainable. We did not spray herbicides or pesticides or those type chemicals. We we didn’t do the things that large scale monocropping does. It was very diverse and very sustainable and we incorporated a lot of just understanding more about the land in the soil and how and how crops work. Cover cropping, trying a variety different covers like hay, and using plastics with drip lines underneath it. So all these different practices, they were all based on sustainability. And it was really incredible to see that we can feed a large amount of people from a small amount of land. It  was 3 acres but we’ were basically only using an acre and a half. That's because you have to rotate the different plots.it was just really inspiring for me to be able to see what volume of harvest you can have from the small amount of land."

Mariah added "Being in the rural area that we were, we were surrounded by various different forest lands. The University has a great amount of acres on the other side as well, that we use for research farming and different things. So we were surrounded basically by growing of other crops that sometimes were not practicing the same principles exactly that we were. Based on what they were trying to do with them or what their intentions were, whatever the research was. Maybe they’re trying combat weeds, trying to find a specific variety of of things. It might require them to do use a certain thing in their practice. So we were surrounded by a variety of different farmers who are trying various different processes. Being in a rural area we had groundhogs we had field mice we had deer, a variety of different animals and wildlife that you had to be aware of , even  hornets . There’s all these different things we had to be aware of. We had an electric fence that we would build up ourselves. And we also had someone who was tracking these specific wasps all the way from British Columbia and was going his research all across the whole country. And so he literally came to our farm, it was hilarious. He was like I need to go to your high tunnel, because you have a wasp nest there! It was interesting to deal with the wildlife there. We were right on the Penobscot River, Who doesn’t like nice fresh vegetables including the wildlife so who can blame them" she laughed. "It shows that we were doing a good job."

Check out this cool video featuring. Mariah to find out more about her adventure with Maine's Black Bear Guild : https://youtu.be/ul1L0iEsQnI

Mariah as a members of the Maine Women's Hockey squad. Photos courtesy of Maine Athletics and Hockey East

After graduating, Mariah played in the European Women’s Hockey League (EWHL) in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia with a team called the Bratislava Police. We asked her how that came about, and Mariah explained

"During my last season at the University of Maine I was one of the captains on the team. And so moving forward I really want to take that next step to go to Europe, and get the opportunity to travel as well as play the sport I love. And playing in the EWHL allowed me to do that. And so for me, it was just a matter of which team I was going to play for, In which country. So as spring approached in my final year at University of Maine, I just started contacting different teams to see what their program was about. Seeing what their philosophies were, how many times they were on the ice every week, how many times they were in the gym, and what the resources were. Just sort of finding out what a day in the life would look like if I was to go join their organization. And so after speaking with the different organizations within the league, and a couple of different leagues as well, I really resonated with what they were trying to do in Bratislava. They were focusing on Olympic qualification, and having the best girls in the country be a part of their program there. And so girls are coming from all different sections of Slovakia into that central point. So just everything from the amount of practices they offered, to the resources, the contract itself, the overall experience, it was exactly what I wanted to step into. And I am so glad that I did. It was obviously a little bit nerve wracking at the beginning. You know, you’re stepping into a new experience and for myself, I only speak English. So going into a country where they speak a different language and there are a lot of different new experiences. Iit was so exciting and comforting to me when I first arrived they literally welcomed me with open arms."

"We realized we have one thing in common: and that is hockey, we all love hockey. And once we all put on our equipment and we are out on the ice having a blast, it didn’t matter what language we spoke because we all were so passionate about hockey. It allowed us to bond immediately. And so it took down all those barriers right from the get go. My Dad actually flew out there with me, just to make sure I got all settled, and everything was all good. And so that was also really special, and it was a proud moment for him to see me take that next step into my professional career. After playing D1 hockey four years, it was was going to be the next step in my career and for him, he was just elated I was able to have that opportunity as a women hockey player to play professionally overseas. And to be able to play in an environment that was going to be really progressive.for my career to come."

Mariah added  "I was really excited about that. During my time at Maine, like most college careers, there’s ups, there’s downs. You face adversities, not only in your individual career, but as a team as a whole. And playing professionally then, it allowed me to reap the reward of all those lessons learned, all the adversities and all the good times at Maine, and really be able to take that next step was sa role in my hockey career. I think it’s just really important for you to live out your life‘s purpose. Whatever that is whatever your journey looks like. Just live it to the fullest you don’t have to be the cookie cutter, standard, one-size-fits-all. It’s all about the philosophy that was always taught to me growing up. Be unique, celebrate your uniqueness and take full advantage of it. Getting that ownership of your own journey just allows you to be more empowered and to step into whatever that most authentic version of you really looks like. And that’s something that I’ve always stuck true to from the very beginning. And I think that my journey has just allowed me to uncover some really cool abilities and knock on some really cool doors. And have had some great opportunities to open up for me. I think that just seeing people and hearing their different stories of leaders and trailblazers who take their voice and their path to the next level, .I’ve always wanted to embody that. And just be extremely authentic to m, and just inspire others to do the same. It takes courage and bravery to step into the unknown. But when you have faith and you have ownership of who you are, and you are willing to dive into new experiences, the reward really outweighs the fear. Abandoning that notion that there’s just one way for everyone. And that just goes into my philosophy and how I approach my life and how I also approach my clients. And I think that’s come out and been really evident in the good in my life.”

“We realized we have one thing in common: and that is hockey, we all love hockey. And once we all put on our equipment and we are out on the ice having a blast, it didn’t matter what language we spoke because we all were so passionate about hockey. It allowed us to bond immediately.”

When Mariah is not on the ice or in the gym with her hockey career, she remains involved in the sport through her online businesss Young Elite Athletes, YEA for short. We asked Mariah to tell us about that aspect of her hockey life, and she replied

 “This is a business that was founded out of pure passion by my brother and I. Growing up and eating just incredible meals that our Mom would make for us, and just being involved in the cooking process as well, we learned from a very young age that nutrition was a key component to us. It translated to us doing well in the ice or in any sport or any facet of life. So we always knew that we wanted to start a business in the hockey community in someway or another. With both of us playing elite hockey, myself obviously still competing, we ‘ve just been extremely passionate about the sport, ever since we put on those double blade skates! So, it was really evident that we wanted to do something in some capacity, but we just didn’t know what would come to light. And so a few years ago both of us were working in the hockey community with nutrition. My brother a little more in nutrition and not in the hockey community, but both of us in the realm of nutrition."

"We’ve always been really close and had a really strong brother sister dynamic, which I feel really fortunate about. We got to brainstorming, and we came up with this idea. It was an need that we saw in the hockey community, and something they could really benefit from. Something that we wished we had as young athletes going through our careers. So I think it’s always important to have a strong connection to what you are doing and the people you’re serving, just so you can relate to them on all fronts. To know what their going through, from every day challenges to the big picture. And I think that this was just the right fit for both of us. My brother Joshua comes from a business background, He got his degree with honors in Entrepreneurship from University in Ontario. And then he got his degree in Nutrition afterwards. I think that both of us having those unique skill sets and having different things as part of our path that we can tie into, enhances our client’s experience. It was just the right decision to make to start Young Elite Athletes”

Mariah continued “It is a group-based program, where hockey players become healthier and higher performing athletes on and off the ice. So we work directly with the parents and the players. We create a hockey specific nutrition plan as well as habits to be able to unlock the full hockey potential. It’s so fulfilling to see these young athletes just tap into their highest potential on and off the ice and get them to the best versions of themselves. I think when you look at just the effects of taking a holistic approach to everything someone does in life, it’s it’s always intertwined and connected, in a deeper way than what meets the eye. I think that the sooner the hockey players and parents come to us, the greater results they see right from the start. Because we are able to give them a great foundation to build that best version of themselves. It’s really incredible. it’s so true that all the aspects of my life personally have that holistic aspect, and I think that it’s always been important for me to consciously take a holistic approach. Because there is really nothing in life that is not connected to something else. And I think that interconnectedness it’s incredible."

“We are always welcome to connecting and having a conversation. (You can contact Mariah and Young Elite Athletes via email at mariah@youngeliteathletes.com) These young athletes have so much fire and passion in them, it really just pulls at my heart strings. Because I can remember that it was only like a decade ago that I was in those same shoes. Just looking at different teams to go to, especially at this time when tryouts are coming up and there’s a lot of uncertainty. And I think that the principles that Joshua and I go back to are all about, what is in your control. What can you take ownership of what can you consistently take action on day in and day out? I think that these kids are already so dedicated towards the sport of hockey. But it’s so much more than what you do when you are on the ice. It’s what you do when you’re off the ice that allowed you to do what you want on the ice. So we take care of all of the thinking off the ice. So that way when they get on the ice, they are able to just skate. To play the sport that they love, and see the results they want. And that is just reaching their full hockey potential, and making it to that next level, whatever that is for them. We have a lot of various athletes of all ages right now. Players are playing all over the country, actually across North America, I should say. It’s really incredible to be part of their journey and see them rack up big wins every single week. I know that they all love being a part of the community. Because during these times, sometimes teams have practices, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you’re gonna be at the rink sometimes you aren’t. There is a lot of uncertainty for players iand adolescents in general, especially during this past year or so. And our community has really grown because athletes, specifically hockey players, are looking for that strong knit community. Where people are going to be able to relate to them and understand that we’re all going through this and help them see the things that they can control. It really does have a massive impact when they see the ice open up and they are poised to jump back out there. And what more can you want and for them to be better than they were when they got off the ice. And also, be better than your competitor. It’s just a win-win."

"And these people, these young players and their parents, are able to plug into a community with other athletes and parents who are going through the same things that they are going through. It allows them to have their tribe, And it’s so often that you jump around from team to team as you’re growing up, and maybe you know three or four guys or girls on the team. But when we have athletes join YEA, we see them for a few years before they go off to college. So that allows them to develop that camaraderie and allows them to build more of those friendships they can have for a lifetime.So that’s another part of with this amazing hockey community, it really gives you is those friendships and those connections but you’ll be able to have for years and years after.”

" A lot of adolescent athletes have turned to their electronic devices 24/7, whether it be school, online meetings, or family Zoom meetings. But primarily what they do is video games. So parents are more than happy to have therm plugging into a hockey and performance based community where they are able to improve their hockey performance and their career. So taking an extra hour out of your week to plug into this community vs plugging into your video games, parents are all for it. Because they know their kid is going to have that screen time no matter what, so now it is better allocated. Kids are kids, and there is a place for everything.Their version of playing is different than a couple of decades ago. It’s constantly evolving. But let’s incorporate some balance. We’ve seen athletes thrive on our platform because they are already used to electronics, so it’s been easy for them to plug in. They loved it because it’s a social hour, but at the same time it’s very educational. It’s just a great blend of the two, and they really get to love the experience, for sure"

It seemed to Cetacean Nation that an online enterprise like Young Elite Athletes would be beneficial for a hockey player like Mariah who is juggling careers, and she agreed.

"YEA gives me the flexibility time wise and location wise, and there is so much trouble with those things when playing pro hockey. Typically in a non Covid scenario, you are on the road or you are at different ice sessions or different ice sessions become available in the middle of the day. And I always wanted to be sure I was keeping hockey as my priority and just weave in my career alongside playing, and YEA gives me that opportunity, that flexibility that I love."

Mariah in action in the CWHL with the Worcester Blades. Photo by Al Saniuk

We wrapped up our conversation with Mariah with a “Three Quick Questions”segment, asking

1) Do you have any pets?

 “Not at this time, but over the years I have had pets. Definitely I’d love to in the future, but petless right now, no pets! But I love animals. You know when they ask you what you want to be when you grow up, my first response was to be in the NHL, because what else could you think of? Obviously now you don’t have to say NHL, because we’ve got the NWHL, but that was my first choice when I was younger. And then my second was to be a veterinarian. That was always the second thing I wanted to do growing up. I’ve always had lots of pets in my household growing up. Actually I even had a dog when Inwas at University, but just not now. Me and my fiancé love watching Wicked Tuna, we love it! Besides watching hockey, I don’t actually watch TV and I’m not sure how my fiancé knew, maybe it’s the competitiveness, or the relationships they build on the boat, I don’t know, I just really love it! It was a huge win for us then Wicked Tuna came out!”

2) Which  is the favorite rink you’ve played in?

 “I’ve actually never been asked that" she said, considering her answer for a bit before replying  “Honestly, I have to say this one, because it was my dream come true. So when I was nine years old, I got picked to play at the Air Canada Center (known now as Scotiabank Arena) So that’s where the Toronto Maple Leafs play. We were on Saturday Night Heroes, so we played during the day at the ACC before a regular game. For me it was just so cool! We got changed in the locker room downstairs, and we came out of the tunnel! I felt like I was in the NHL when I was just nine years old! It was like one of my first years playing girls hockey, I had played guys hockey before thar. So for me I was like :Oh my goodness, this is amazing! I love playing under pressure, I thrive, I love it! So for me the pressure was so high, and I absolutely loved it! Afterwards we got the VCR tape of the us playing, each one of us. It was such a highlight in my life, just playing there at the ACC. And honestly, I haven’t thought about it in years, so yeah, thanks for asking that question! “

3) Can you tell us something most people wouldn’t know about you?

“My favorite place to be, besides the rink, is the ocean. I love being at the ocean. That’s absolutely my favorite safe haven place to be. I love the ocean so much, I love swimming in the ocean. I love being by the ocean. I love hearing the waves. I love smelling the salt in the air, I love everything about the ocean. So if I’m not at a rink, you better believe I would love to be by the ocean. All growing up, my family actually called me a mermaid “ she laughed.  “My family would always go down to Florida, that was a yearly thing. My heritage is Greek and Japanese, two places where there are countless beaches, surrounded by the ocean. So if you go into the south of Japan, it’s all ocean. If you go into the islands of Greece, they are world renown. I’ve never been to the Japanese islands, but I’ve spent a good amount of time at the Greek islands and I think it’s something that speaks to my soul. I just love the ocean so much! So it’s either frozen water or waves!”she laughed.. “So I guess it’s a great full circle that I’m playing with the Whale. And actually, one of my favorite animals is the whale. So that works out perfectly. When I’m watching Wicked Tuna, I love when they see whales! They’re like: The fish are here! I’m like: Just show me the whales for the next 45 minutes!”

 Fins Up to that! And Fins Up to our Amazing #37 Mariah Fujimagari for sharing these parts of the story of her holistic journey through hockey and through life.

On January 31, 2021 Mariah became the 16th goaltender in Connecticut Whale history. Photo =courtesy of the Connecticut Whale

UPDATE: ON 7/12/21 the Connecticut Whale announce they have re-signed Mariah Fujimagari foe Season Seven. Fins Up to that!