When Gary Choy moved to Greater Sudbury in 1995, he drove around the city looking for anyone playing sports — he had a competitive fire inside him and needed to find some action.
Choy knew no one except for a few people in his wife’s family. He had decided living and working in the Toronto area was too hard on his family — he never saw his wife or daughter. Choy had always liked Sudbury and the “small town feel, with small town values” characteristic of the city from past visits, and knew it was the right move.
He quickly found people playing badminton and joined in. He then found people playing basketball and joined in. It wasn’t too long until Choy found people playing soccer and, you guessed it, he joined in.
Seventeen years later, and the one sport Choy has continued to play religiously and relentlessly has been soccer. The competitive fire burning inside him when he first moved to the Nickel City? Still raging and maybe even bigger than it was before.
Even at age 53, Choy is going full tilt on the soccer pitch for his team, the Sudbury Athletic Fury. Choy is a stubborn and skilled defender. He towers over no one and is at least twice the age of nearly all his opponents.
Yet there is hardly an opponent who can get around Choy or strip him of the ball without a dogged fight. No foe can match his intensity.
“I’m a competitor at heart,” he said. “Age is irrelevant to me. It’s about how you feel and I feel good.”
Choy was born and raised in Guyana, South America, where he played soccer and cricket. He moved to Toronto with his family when he was 13. Choy played high school soccer and wrestled at the University of Toronto. He is now a financial adviser at Freedom 55.
There isn’t much that stands in the way of Choy hitting the pitch. The moment he gets his soccer schedule, Choy blocks games out in his calendar. Everything else is planned around those games.
“I’ve been known to leave a family function to play a game,” he said. “I do it in a polite way. My family knows. They know me. I look forward to playing every game.”
As for knowing people, Choy is no stranger around Sudbury, especially at a soccer event. As he stood outside at the Caruso tournament, there was hardly a group of people that walked by and didn’t stop to have a quick chat with Choy.
It’s easy to see why — Choy has an infectious smile and is good-natured. He’s also witty and humorous. There is undeniable mutual respect with the people he knows.
“When I first came here, I knew no one really,” he said. “That has changed because of sports and especially soccer. I know a lot of good people now. This is why I moved here.”
There will come a day when Choy stops playing competitive soccer. But when? He doesn’t give up the answer. Instead, Choy offers up a wide smile followed by a hearty chuckle and shrugs his shoulders.
The game has more than its hooks in Choy. The game is part of Choy’s life and has helped make him the man he is today.
“Soccer has kept me healthy and it has taught me about life,” Choy said. “I play hard, but fair. The plan is to keep playing no matter what happens.”
There is no one on the Sudbury Athletic Fury men’s club who doesn’t have the utmost respect for Choy. Team coach and captain Stephane Legrand, 23, feels fortunate to get the opportunity to play with and learn from Choy.
“He’s 53 and still competing as hard as he ever did at the top level in Sudbury. What isn’t inspiring about what Gary is doing?” Legrand said. “He keeps up to varsity athletes and players who train year-round. He should be out of his prime right? He isn’t. He doesn’t act his age. When he has the ball, it is difficult for anyone to take it from him.”
Legrand said Choy is a role model for any athlete, thanks to his dedication to the game, sportsmanship, genuine character and competitive nature.
“If I can be his age and kicking as well as he is in life, I will be doing great,” Legrand said. “I hope he keeps playing for a long time. He helped mentor me. For younger generations, he is a guy they should be talking to and looking up to.”
Choy brings experience to the equation, along with a level head. He knows how to play the role of teacher by setting a perfect example.