This past year, our student athletes have faced extraordinary challenges. They missed multiple seasons of competition, reckoned with unusual training circumstances, and felt the distance of their teammates. Yet, many of these athletes were able to dig down and discover their inner resilience. How do they maintain the Warrior spirit during the COVID-19 pandemic? At a recent event, members of the University of Waterloo athletics community came together to explore that question. Not only did they inspire us with their words of wisdom, but they also raised $40,000 to support student athletes! Watch the event recording for the full discussion, or read on for some highlights.

Tre FordSeizing opportunities

Varsity football player Tre Ford (BA in progress) said that the COVID-19 pandemic  offered unique opportunities in both academics and athletics. For example, setting time aside to train has never been so convenient. “Online [school] is pretty useful because you can go on your own schedule,” he explained. “You can study when you want to.”

Although he missed his team and the in-game experience, Tre never slowed down. In his eyes, the pandemic offered a time to get ahead. “A big motivator for me was my fiancée,” Tre recounted. “She’d always drag me to the gym when I didn’t want to go.” Thinking about their future together helps him to stay focused. “I always want to do better than I have before,” he said, “… I want to give us and our three dogs the best life possible.”

Mandy Bujold throwing a punchFighting on

Mandy Bujold is an Olympic boxer and former Waterloo student. She felt frustrated when the Summer 2020 Olympics were delayed, but found a silver lining: “I just kind of embraced the fact that ‘hey, we’re going to have an extra year.’ For me, this was supposed to be the end of my career, and then I was given this gift of an extra year of training.”

For the athletes struggling to find their “why,” she shared some advice. “It has to come from within,” she said, “… there’s going to be obstacles—that’s life—but you can’t allow them to become barriers.” Mandy looks forward to representing Canada in Tokyo this summer. Meanwhile, she is hard at work finessing her technique with Kitchener-based coach, Syd Vanderpool.

Kim DawsonManaging new emotions

Dr. Kim Dawson (PhD ’93), professor of Sport Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University and varsity volleyball alumnus, explained that athletes had to go the extra mile to stay motivated during the pandemic. “Resilience doesn’t just happen, you have to put work into it,” she said, “The athletes that were willing to do that work … are the ones still standing at this point.”

Over the past year, Kim has helped athletes to create a positive “psychological shift.” She said that the first step was to validate their emotions, and let them grieve the loss of their normal lives. Next, she encouraged them to maintain the training habits that support their physical and mental health. “They have to choose to hope,” she said. “There’s a lot of emotions you could be feeling right now, but let’s select a good one of optimism and hope. Most athletes will dig into that and realize that’s exactly what they’re looking for.”

Feridun Hamdullahpur headshotOutperforming the odds

“I’m very proud of our student athletes who have remained positive and persevered,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Feridun Hamdullahpur. He noted that despite the pandemic student athletes have made remarkable progress. Approximately $750,000 in awards went to student athletes last year, with $500 going to every female student athlete who met the requirements. What’s more, 50 per cent of those students  achieved an academic average of 80 per cent or higher, while 90 per cent achieved an average of over 70 per cent.

“It has been a long and challenging year,” Feridun concluded, “but our student athletes, along with our entire university community, have demonstrated their resilience.”