Miruna Muller knows what it’s like to get a police escort to a hotel after winning a pro basketball game in Istanbul. She also knows how to recalculate your income tax receipts in Ryerson’s enrolment and student fees office.
Muller, who played for the Rams from 1996-2001, had her pro basketball career halted by injuries.
That led her back to the university as an employee. But roughly 10 years later, Muller is still dealing with the mental effects of the fleeting nature of a pro sports career.
“I wasn’t ready to give it up. I was at the height of my career when I had to stop,” Muller said.
“It’s hard to give up a sport that you’ve done since you were six years old.”
Muller left Romania in 1994 to join family members in Canada.
She joined a recreational basketball competition in which Richard Dean, then an assistant coach with the Ryerson women’s team, watched her play.
During halftime of the first game he saw her play, Dean phoned Ryerson’s then head coach, Sandy Pothier, and told her they’d found their shooting guard.
“I was really quite excited about it after that first half. She put on quite a display, a shooting display,” Dean said.
After Muller’s first preference, University of Toronto, showed little interest, she agreed to come to Ryerson.
Today her name is inscribed on the H.H. Kerr and Marilyn C. McVey trophies — for Ryerson female athlete of the year and women’s basketball MVP, respectively — displayed in cabinets on the third floor of the former Maple Leaf Gardens. She won the former three times from 1999-2001 and the latter for the 2000-2001 season.
Her strength was shooting and she had a quick first step to get past defenders, said Dean.
“Plus she had ice in her veins, I guess you could say, so she didn’t get distracted by anything going on around her,” he said.
Muller got noticed by recruiters at the 2001 World University Games, which led to her first pro job in Israel. It was during her time at the Israeli club she experienced a hostile crowd in Istanbul. She spent a year there before going to Romania for a few more years of basketball.
“It’s exactly what I expected it to be,” Muller said of her pro career, which included winning a national championship in Romania.
But while in her last season in Romania, Muller injured her left knee, requiring reconstructive surgery.
Six months later, when back in Canada, she reinjured her knee, which led to more surgery.
Her playing career was over.
When Muller’s playing days ended, she didn’t have another career lined up. It was while she still went to exercise at the Ryerson’s Recreation and Athletics Centre, she discovered they needed help. She worked there for about 18 months before shifting to enrolment services and student fees.
But years later, she admits she still deals with the mental issues surrounding the end of her career. Muller has no involvement with the current Ryerson women’s basketball team and hardly watches the sport.
According to Dr. Leith Drury, Ryerson athletics’ sports psychologist, Muller’s reaction is not rare. The psychological effects of a career-ending injury include loss of identity, friendships and future opportunities.
There are ways, however, to minimize that damage.
“The psychological effects of losses or defeats, let alone injuries, have a much greater impact if that athlete doesn’t have a much bigger life than just the sport,” Drury said.
Even though Muller spent five years at Ryerson, she never finished her degree: her sole passion was basketball. She’s unsure having interests outside of the sport would have helped following her injury.
“Something (that’s) part of your life — like drinking water every day or swimming every day — and then all of a sudden, you can’t … I don’t care what else you have on the side, it still wouldn’t help,” she said. “I’m not saying it might not be easier, but it’s still something that’s snatched away from you.”
Though her relationship with basketball changed post-injury, she has since developed an interest in mountain biking, another quick sport that provides a rush.
While Muller isn’t completely over her career loss, she admits she’s content with her decisions.
“If I would have the choice, I probably would do the same again,” she said.
“It’s an easy living. You do what you love. Just play.”