Medical student chases her international dreams at Universiade

First-year medical student Kyla Vanderzwet will be trading in her backpack and textbooks for ski goggles and poles this week as she represents Canada in Nordic Skiing at the Winter Universiade in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The Universiade is a multi-sport event that brings together thousands of University athletes from around the globe. Vanderzwet is one of 125 Canadians at the games, and one of only five from Western.

Vanderzwet reflects on the fact that only six months ago she thought she’d be hanging up her ski poles for good. After accepting her position at Schulich Medicine and realizing there isn’t a ski team at Western, she resigned herself to the fact that her days of competitive skiing were behind her. When she got the invitation just a few weeks later to attend the games, she decided that she would do everything in her power to make it happen.

“I felt elated,” she said in a recent blog post. “This wasn’t something I had expected at all, yet competing internationally is a ‘dream goal’ that I write down every year – I knew I had to seize the day.”

Vanderzwet got in some of her training with the cross-country running team at Western after contending with a mild fall and winter that saw almost no snow on the ground in London. She also managed to travel to areas with more snow to get some training runs in, all while managing the demanding medical school curriculum. She says even with all the challenges, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s a lot of hours in my week, but it also brings a lot of joy and energy,” she said. “I’m happier when I’m doing both (skiing and school). When you can do something you are passionate about it keeps you motivated.” Spoken like a true med student she says it’s the “neurohormonal changes” in your body as a result of vigorous exercise that drive some of that energy and motivation. She also says that it’s the lessons learned in sport that playout in everyday life: having the right mindset, thinking positively and making plans that you can follow through on one step at a time in order to achieve your goals.

As far as goals are concerned at the Universiade, Vanderzwet would love to finish top 70 in the world, but more than that, she’d just like to know she put forward her best effort in every race.

“I can’t really control where I stand compared to other people at this point,” she said. “For me, it’s about doing the best I can do, doing my thing, and the rest will work out.”

She hopes by competing she can serve a bigger role in encouraging people to keep active and participate in activities that they love. “I hope that people see that they don’t have to let other demands take away from things they enjoy doing to stay active because that’s the best way to take care of your health,” she said.

Vanderzwet will be racing on January 30 and 31, February 2, and 7.