We venture through a tunnel of hanging jerseys and they brush along us with each step. We come out the other end. The keys are fiddled with until the door opens. Before me is a place of secrecy—his domain. His body hangs on a hook and his head sits on the floor. He stares out at me with a smile askew. This is Thunder’s home.
I grab the empty shell that is Thunder’s head and admire the craftsmanship. It’s worn and battered but still intact, and, of course, I try it on before setting it down. I begin the interview but we don’t get very far before the full-time mascot realizes the game’s about to start. The muscled body suit is put on—if only acquiring a six-pack were so easy. The head is secured and the sword pointed towards the door. It’s go time for Thunder.
The University of Victoria has 18 000 students and there’s one icon that brings them all together, a symbol that exemplifies school pride. Thunder is renowned, but there’s no fame for the man under the fabric and stitches. With over 50 years of school tradition it’s time we, the students, unravel the secret that is our mascot. It’s time we discover what it’s like to be under the Thunder.
The athletic department takes anonymity seriously so I cannot identify our full-time mascot. “That’s the nature of the position,” said Athletics Marketing & Campus Engagement Coordinator Zac Andrus. “Unfortunately, people identify with the mascot and not the person inside the suit.”
He is Thunder anywhere between eight and 10 hours a week, and he doesn’t just show up to varsity games. He attends Victoria Royals games, Victoria Shamrocks games, and community events such as Run for the Cure. “Having a mascot is definitely an integral part to school spirit as well as community outreach,” he says. “I’ve been to public events where people know that UVic is contributing because I’ve been there.”
But the amount of time he spends in the suit takes its toll. “When I’m done a shift, there’s lots of sweat. I have an aching back and sometimes hurt hands,” he says, showing me pink, swollen knuckles. “That’s the thing about being Thunder; you have to keep going even when you feel human.” He chuckles and shakes his wrist.
“What’s harder though is being treated like something other than human. Times when people don’t seem to internalize that I’m still a person.”
So when he doesn’t feel his best, when exhaustion sets in and someone decides to cop a feel, there’s no giving up. “You have to have a moral compass—even if you’re not feeling the greatest,” he says. “If a child comes up to you and wants a hug, you give it to them because in the back of your mind you know you’re representing UVic.”
There’s a lot of pressure to live up to expectations. “When there’s a lull in the crowd, you try to amp it up because you feel like it’s your fault. If there’s any negativity in the crowd you feel like it’s your responsibility to change it.”
“He brings a ton of school spirit and energy to the table,” said Andrus. “His energy and enthusiasm at varsity games has literally willed our teams to wins. He’s a great mascot and person.”
The job is important because being Thunder means something. “Being Thunder means being part of the team, it means being part of the school, and it means being a positive contribution to both of those things,” he says, cracking a wry grin. “Thunder is more than just the person inside. He’s like Batman—he’s a symbol.” Then it all makes sense. He’s proud to don the cowl because he’s representing something he believes to be bigger than himself.
“I like to think Thunder is the identity of the university,” said Andrus. “We are all Vikes, and Thunder makes a point to include everyone wherever he goes.” Thunder binds us under one banner. He represents more than just school spirit; he represents a sense of belonging, a sense of home away from home.
We are Vikes, not just because our student cards say so. We are Vikes because the moment his stick hits the drum, the moment his sword lunges through the air, and the moment he charges into battle, we have a symbol to fall behind. So we fall behind Thunder and as he inspires us to will our team to victory, we inspire him to carry on.
As we enter the school gymnasium, I see why one would want to be Thunder. School spirit hits us like cinder blocks; it radiates through the air. I feel it as sneakers shuffle across the court, as cheerleaders soar in the air and as I join the crowd and we thunder our feet on the ground. In unison we chant, we throw our fists up high, and we smear streaks of blue and gold across our cheeks.
If you’re interested in volunteering with Vikes Nation please visit vikesnation.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org