I was an adventurous kid born and raised in Calgary with the mountains close to home, I loved anything to do with the great outdoors. My family would often go on multi-day canoe trips in the deep woods, where I discovered the thrill and excitement of whitewater canoeing and kayaking. My love of canoe slalom took root here, and I’ve made it my life’s goal to become an Olympian.
I was also a social butterfly, I love to talk, in class that didn’t work out so well for my grades. Since I’d always had a hard time in school I never really considered going to post-secondary. Instead, I planned on becoming a professional athlete. Who needs school when you can go pro, right?
My plans changed a year after high school when I found myself in the hospital with a broken kneecap, I needed a backup plan. This injury was a major setback, but it taught me to think about nourishing other parts of my life. I decided to go back to school.
As an amateur athlete I need to market myself to potential sponsors. I’m expected to raise anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 a year for coaching, training, and competing fees. I realized I’m pretty good at it, so I enrolled in a Business Degree with a major in marketing.
My experience in post-secondary has been amazing, and as an engaged student, I’m doing well. I’ve met some of my best friends on campus, became president of our marketing society, and got this sweet job as an ambassador with the Government of Alberta. I’ve done all this while travelling and training for competitions. I miss some time every semester, but my professors help me work around my schedule, so that I can be successful.
I’ll be 29 years old when I compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, after that, maybe I’ll apply for a Master of Business degree, with planning you can have it all.
Alberta ran this peer-developed program from 2007 until 2019. Ambassadors blogged and visited classrooms to inspire students to plan their post-secondary journey. These ambassadors are now in the workforce but their stories can still inspire continuous education.
As a business student my brain is filled with supply and demand, assets and liabilities, brand strategies, and profits and revenues. My classmates and I spend countless hours on computers. While I love learning about business and marketing strategies, it can get a bit overwhelming.
We all need a way to unwind from the stresses of daily life, and my favourite thing is an escape from the city to the mountains. Spending time in the mountains helps me to reconnect with myself and fuels my need for wide-open spaces, it’s my “mountain therapy.” I may have revenues and expenses on the brain for most of the week, but when I get to the mountains my only currency is sweat, peace of mind, and freedom.
Living in Canada, we have so many diverse landscapes, the second I get on the highway I can feel my shoulders instantly relax, my mind ease and I decompress. There’s nothing quite as refreshing as that first breath of fresh mountain air. I like to use my time in the wilderness to reflect on my recent challenges and triumphs. I think about why I was successful in some moments and not in others. This self-reflection helps me to prepare for the weeks ahead.
Aside from personal reflection, my other main objective is to relax, enhancing my performance as a student and an athlete. The slower pace of life in the mountains has also taught me some valuable lessons.
The mountains have taught me patience. It’s taken millions of years to form the Canadian Rockies. The peaks endure harsh winds and welcome winter storms. They teach me about resilience, and about cultivating the flexibility to face new challenges. The mountains also remind me to slow down and focus on the task at hand. When I’m hiking, I need to focus on every footstep so that I don't fall off a cliff. Back in the city, I face different cliffs like exams or job interviews, and I’m reminded to be calm, focused, and strategic in my approach to these challenges as well. If we rush through life, we miss out on the details and small pleasures.
I think a lot of my success comes from taking the time to understand what I want to achieve and prioritizing tasks to accomplish my goals. Every adventure may not go as planned, but I can learn how to adapt and survive. Just as the mountains transform with every season, I too must learn how to prepare for the changes ahead of me. I always look forward to my mountain therapy, everyone should find their way to de-stress.
Making history at the Pan American Games
I splashed my face with the fresh, clear water of the Gull River before gripping the wooden t-grip of my paddle. It was the last minute before the start of the final white-water slalom canoe race in the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. I can still remember the afternoon sun on my skin, its soft warmth just moments before I launched into my final run. I took a deep breath and looked across the river to see the red and white Canadian spectators on the shore of the scenic Minden White Water preserve. The clock began its countdown from 10 I pushed off the start dock and caught the turbulent current as I peeled into the Whitewater slalom course. My heart was pounding, every stroke had to count, I needed a fast, clean run. I wasn’t just racing for myself; I knew the entire nation was behind me, anticipating a medal-worthy performance.
As I navigated through the extremely technical slalom course, I was determined to do my best. The first section of the course, gate 4 had a raging current that pushed me off my line. This meant I had to paddle hard to regain my position. There was no time to think, all I could do was stick to my game plan and try to recover valuable seconds through the rest of the course.
As I crossed the finish line my body heaved with exhaustion, my muscles were maxed out after expending every ounce of energy I had. After the Brazilian paddler came across the finish line it was official – I’d won the bronze medal! I was elated, years of training and preparation had brought me to this point, it was truly a life-changing moment of success.
We raised our medals as cameras flashed and spectators cheered. Together with the crowd we laughed, cried, and felt a sense of euphoria I’d never felt before. That moment of celebrating victory was the icing on the cake and a champagne moment I’ll never forget.
It was historic, this was the first-time women’s canoeing had ever been included in multi-sport games. I was also making history for myself (since it wasn’t yet sanctioned as an Olympic event), the Pan Am Games was the highest level of competition I could reach, until it was added to the Olympics.
The day after the competition I was exploring downtown Toronto in my Team Canada uniform when a man approached me and said: “I want to first congratulate you on your achievements as a Canadian athlete. I also want to thank you, through your ambition and achievement of your goals I feel inspired to achieve goals of my own.”
Truthfully, I was a bit surprised. It hadn’t occurred to me that through my efforts I could inspire others. It was a powerful moment that made my win seem that much more significant. I had thought that winning the bronze medal was the defining moment of my success. This man’s comment helped me to realize that my success was also my country’s.
Now I realize that, for me, the most motivating and rewarding part of achieving success is being able to encourage others to follow their passions. That’s partly why I’m pushing for gender equality in my sport. As the first female canoeists to compete in the Pan Am Games, my fellow competitors and I have initiated a legacy for future female canoeists. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games added canoeing. It’s one of the few remaining Olympic sports that lacks gender equality but I’m hoping that’s about to change.
Update: Haley became an Olympian!
Tips for striking a balance as a student athlete
As a student athlete managing work, school, athletics and a social life is busy! Some of these tips were borrowed from Krista, a University of Alberta volleyball athlete.
Tips for balancing a jam-packed lifestyle:
Always bring food with you
Sundays I set aside 3 hours to meal prep so that I have healthy food for the week. Each day that I leave my house I pack a cooler full of food for lunch, dinner, and snacks to avoid getting hangry as I’m rushing between class and training sessions.
Take the time to plan
I use Google Calendar to schedule my training sessions, classes, study blocks, work and down time to do yoga or hang out with friends, this is extremely important to help me stay grounded. I take advantage of travel time to nap, study or be proactive with assignments. Getting assignments in early might lead to some accommodation if you have a schedule conflict.
Choose quality over quantity
My days are jam packed. I train for 6 hours then the rest of my time is spent on recovering, classes, studying and working (because the bills won’t pay themselves!). I have a lot going on and lots of requests to engage in social events and other activities, but I need to prioritize what is most important to help me be a successful athlete and student. This means trying to be efficient and managing how much I can do. I’ve had to get good at the art of say “no".
Minimize your social media and email time
I love social media, but I sometimes find myself wasting more than an hour a day on online. I try to save my social media consumption times for when I’m in in a doctor or physio waiting room or the few minutes I have before or after class.
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep is crucial to my success. If I don’t get a full 8 hours of sleep the night before I find myself struggling to complete all my tasks. I use breathing exercises before I go to sleep to let go of my worries and get a good night’s sleep.
I’m a major goal setter: I set a goal for each day, week, month and year. I set easy goals, like: “drink 5 glasses of water” and massive goals like: “become an Olympian” to keep me motivated to push through the gritty parts of my life (like accounting class) and bring me to purpose moments like winning medals! Remember: mastery of your goals is doing the things you love on the days you don't feel like doing them. One goal should be to find a friend in every class, it can come in handy if the sports schedule means you need to miss a class.
With so much on the go it’s important to take time to rest, so I’m a power napper. I nap everywhere: in busy hallways at school, on the side of the river before training, and in my car between classes. My university just got a napping room, which has made a big difference in my energy levels for training sessions. Never underestimate the power of a twenty-minute power nap!
Celebrate the small successes
Trying to balance being an athlete and a student isn’t easy but reflecting on my accomplishments helps me to stay motivated to continue my chosen path. My parking is a 15-minute walk from my university, it’s free and I use this walk time to debrief my day and figure out what went well and what needs improvement.
Remind yourself why you’re doing this
Never lose your love of the game reach out to coaches, professors, teachers, parents, friends, and teammates if you need support, a student-athlete succeeds with balance. Being a student athlete comes with a unique set of challenges. There is always something going on, but it’s worth it.
Presenting like a pro
Public speaking is a valuable skill to have – it can help you nail a presentation at school, impress your boss at work, or even convince friends and family to support one of your crazy ideas! It’s totally normal to feel a bit nervous speaking in front of a crowd, but there are things you can do to boost your public speaking game and help ease your nerves. Use these tips to make your presentations rock!
Tell a story
The best communicators are great storytellers. It really helps to remember a moment that has happened to you and share that experience in detail to paint a vivid passionate picture of your topic.
Know your audience
When I’m talking to high school students, I try to keep my presentations relevant to their lives and interests, and I try to put myself in their shoes to ensure they can relate to what I’m talking about.
Provide a brief agenda
An overview at the beginning will keep you on track and make it easier for the audience to follow.
Ask questions and interact
To help your audience stay engaged. Ask yes or no questions like “who has ever skied before?” and chances are at least a few people will put their hands up. This makes for an interactive presentation and gets your audience invested in what you’re saying.
Walk around the room
I’ve been called Happy Feet when presenting because I like to walk around while I’m talking. Walking can help you to loosen up and keep things casual and fluid. Moving across the room also allows you to connect with everyone in the audience, rather than just focusing on the people who are front and centre.
It’s the absolute worst feeling messing up what you’re going to say in a presentation and having your audience just stare back at you blankly. Before you present try hitting the record button on your phone and watch yourself present so you can see where you need to improve. This will also help you to notice any nervous habits you might have, like playing with your hair or saying ‘um’ a lot, so that you can keep these habits in check during your presentation.
Use slides or flash cards
I like to use presentation slides that I can click through as I talk to help remind me of my talking points, so that I don’t have to memorize everything, and I don’t miss anything important. You can also make little flash cards with your talking points on them, to prompt you if you don’t have the technology.
Teach your audience something new
I learned this tip from the book ‘Talk like Ted’, all TED Talks are based on learning something new – here’s the quote: “The human brain loves novelty. An unfamiliar, unusual, or unexpected element in a presentation intrigues the audience, jolts them out of their preconceived notions, and quickly gives them a new way of looking at the world.”
Plan your finish
Wrapping up can be the hardest part of a talk because you’ve either used up all of your good stuff, you’ve gone over time, or you have space to fill. Hold on to your closing gold nugget so you can leave on a high note either way.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
Bring some appropriate jokes into your presentations and don't forget to smile – smiling really is contagious. Break the ice, infuse your presentation with a bit of humour, it will help you relax and typically your audience will respond positively.
Learn from other ambassadors or watch these videos:
Alberta Learning Information System (ALIS) resources:
Also visit your learning path to post-secondary.
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