Thomaidis, 50, grew up in Dundas, a small, picturesque town west of Hamilton, Ont. Her mother, Sandra, was a music teacher, specializing in piano and ukulele, though those lessons were lost on her daughter. “Piano? I think I got as far as Grade 1,” says Thomaidis. “Ukulele? Shit, no.”
Her father, Christos, arrived in Canada from Greece, one of four brothers to make the journey. He worked as a school custodian in Toronto before moving to Dundas to start a taxi business and — inevitably, Thomaidis jokes — a restaurant. Sandra, “as Canadian as you can be,” was the culture driver in the house. So despite being one of the few kids in her class with more than two syllables in her surname, Thomaidis’s Greek heritage was largely secondary, the exception being the kalamata olives and feta cheese ever-present in the fridge.
It was not a sports-crazy house. There was no opposition from her parents to her spending her high school years chasing different games by the season, but even as Thomaidis kept growing taller and flashed athleticism along with her size, there was no consideration given to leveraging her potential. Her life’s work found her, rather than the other way around. She fell into sports thanks to an unusual cohort of like-minded girls at what was then Highland Secondary School.
“There was this group of us that just kind of went from sport to sport to sport, and had some pretty good success, and that was uncommon at the time — the school wasn’t known for any sort of athletic success,” says Thomaidis. “But we had these great Phys Ed teachers that wound up being our coaches in volleyball and basketball and soccer, and there was me who was six-two and another good friend who was six-one and another who was five-11 — it was kind of crazy. We probably had better volleyball teams [than basketball] and a couple of these peers went on to play post-secondary volleyball, and I think it was then that I realized, ‘Oh geez, you know, could I maybe play something beyond high school?’”