The Making of a Mustang

Nick Vanin has proven himself to be a leader on and off the field through his dedication to his team, his commitment to his medical studies and his engagement with the community

By Jennifer Parraga, BA’93

In 2018, Nicolas Vanin, BMSc’17, capped off his collegiate football career being named a Top 8 Academic All-Canadian, recognized among the nation’s elite scholar-athletes. It was an honour he received on the heels of making history at Western University as the first-ever athlete to receive the U Sports Russ Jackson Award in 2017 for best exemplifying the attributes of academic achievement, football skill and citizenship.

With a Vanier Cup in his back pocket, it’s rare for one student to have achieved so much in such a short period of time.

What stands out when you meet the third-year medical student, however, is his humility, his commitment to his hometown and how he has found a way to use these recent recognitions and all that comes with them to benefit others.

“I’m at a bit of a loss of words to describe what these awards mean,” said Vanin. “To begin with, it’s extremely humbling and I believe that they ultimately symbolize the hard work, dedication and sacrifices that I have had to put in to get to where I am now. These awards let me know that I’m on the right track in my approach to school and life.”

Vanin is very quick to add that none of his achievements would have been possible without his family, friends and coaches.

“There is no denying the importance of having a loving support group around you,” he said.

As a child, Vanin was involved in a number of sports. He was born in Colombia where soccer is king and he didn’t start playing football until the summer following his first year of high school. Attending Catholic Central High School where there is a strong tradition of football excellence, motivated him to get more involved.

“I found that I really liked it,” Vanin said. “It embodied teamwork, was very inclusive and was just a lot of fun.”

It also served as a great training ground to prepare him for collegiate level play.

A member of the Western Mustangs football team for five years, Vanin maintained a demanding schedule. He managed his studies in the Bachelor of Medical Sciences Honours Specialization in Physiology and Doctor of Medicine programs while training in the gym and on the field five days a week for 10 months of the year.

The often times gruelling schedule taught him a lot about himself and enriched his teamwork, communication and time management skills.

In addition to his training and studies, Vanin has become active in the community. It was during his Social  Medicine course that he learned about London’s Anova, an organization that brings together the Women’s Community House and the Sexual Assault Centre.

He began volunteering as part of his curriculum requirements, but felt so strongly about their mission, he continued his involvement.

Initially, his primary role was to interact with children and provide a respite for their mothers so they could  attend therapy, counselling or just take a break.

“I found that some of the kids aren’t fully aware of the magnitude of what’s happening around them, and they really appreciated having someone come in and play games with them and give them something that is a normal part of a kid’s life,” he said. “I thought it was really important to be there and provide them with a positive role model.”

Recently, Vanin assisted the organization with their gala fundraiser and was able to provide some coveted Western Mustang football collectibles.

Vanin hopes to continue his involvement with the organization throughout the rest of his medical studies.

“Things worth doing will take a lot of hard work and sacrifice,” he said. “If I can give something to someone that enriches their life and perhaps returns them to what they love, it’s worth it.”

While it’s rare to find Vanin on the football field anymore, he says that he is never too far from the sport.

“I watch the games, I work out at the stadium, and I even got to do the colour commentary at one of the games this year,” he said with a smile. “For the next few years, my schedule will be really unpredictable, but it’s something that brought such joy into my life and I look forward to continuing to be part of the program in whatever way I can.”