It’s cold, the ground is covered in a dusting of snow, and it is an hour few are willing to brave.
5:30 am to be exact. Practice day.
Fiona Lester, a Wilfrid Laurier student, awakens. She eats a “quick breakfast” and makes it to the rink for six am. The next few hours are dedicated to a team practice, followed by a personal workout on or off ice.
After another breakfast, Fiona spends the remainder of her day attending class, studying, eating lunch, and completing readings, labs and assignments until dinner- often spent with a few teammates.
Fiona’s story begins like that of many Canadians’.
“I started playing organized hockey when I was 7, before that I learned to skate taking figure skating lessons.”
It wasn’t until she was in peewee hockey (age 11 or so) that she realized where she could go with the sport.
“I visited Queens University to watch the women’s team play and had the opportunity to chat briefly with a player on the team. From then on I had it in my plans to play university hockey.”
With the ceaseless support of her parents, Fiona was able to continue on with this dream.
“If my dad hadn’t been willing to drive me 4 times a week the hour from my hometown Peterborough to the team I played for, and my parents hadn’t been willing to support my hockey financially, I probably wouldn’t have ended up getting scouted to play for Laurier.”
Throughout her sport and academic career at Laurier, Fiona has proven to be a hard worker that leads by example. Her dedication to the sport and her team is what got her the role of assistant captain in second and third year, and eventually captain.
“When fourth year came along and the previous captain, Abby Rainsberry, graduated, I was handed the “C”.”
As captain, Fiona still exhibited the same behavior, winning Outstanding Woman of Laurier this year. The sense of team remains a priority.
“I think its equal parts my teammates and myself that keep me going. You have to be internally motivated to get to a high level, but the support of teammates is important as well.”
Fiona has found role models in her life that have guided her on her journey. Her sisters as well as a family friend and “hockey-teaching extraordinaire,” Ron Davidson lent guidance in sports and in general. As time has passed, Fiona has realized her effect as a role model. Fiona spent time volunteering in her community, making appearances at girls’ team practices throughout hockey season.
“I really enjoy it and consider it my responsibility to provide a good example. In a lot of situations it doesn’t feel that long ago that I was in the same position as the people looking up to me so it is easy to connect with them and give them a bit of guidance.”
Giving back through volunteering not only helped the young girls in hockey, but also gave Fiona a new dream to work towards.
“This allowed us to bring some excitement and new drills to their practices and gave them the opportunity to chat with us and get a better understanding of what it takes to be a university hockey player. I really enjoyed the leadership experience and it made me realize how much I do enjoy teaching hockey and that I want to pursue coaching in the future.”
Even as a role model herself, the university athlete has reached out for guidance.
“When I was extremely stressed about not understanding first year calculus, I was able to spend time at the Mathematics Assistance Centre, where tutors were available for students to drop in to ask questions or clarify concepts
Balancing competitive sports, academics, and a social life can be stressful. Fiona was sure to take advantage of assistance and guidance that was offered by the school.
“If there was something I was stressed about at university, there was usually either a service on campus or someone out there that could help me.”
Fiona recently finished her degree at Laurier in biology and math. The biggest challenge Fiona has faced as an athlete and student has been reaching a high level of success in both aspects of her university life.
“The obvious challenge is that to excel in both your sport and your academics you must put a great deal of focus and effort into both – and yes, this is time consuming – but if you love your sport and all the training that goes along with it, and you enjoy what you’re learning about, then it’s easy really. You just spend your time doing what you like doing!”
Although she loves what she does, Fiona shared one specific sacrifice she’s made.
“I never got to go on a reading week trip since this week fell right in the midst of playoffs, but in the end they are all worth it. Being a part of a varsity team was such a fantastic experience that I wouldn’t trade anything for.”
Fiona remains positive, sharing what has been most rewarding. “I get to play the sport I love at a very competitive level and meet an entire team of fantastic individuals with similar mindsets, while achieving a university degree at the same time!”
It is clear to see Fiona’s positive mindset is a huge contributor to her success in university. After living in residence first year and meeting many friends, Fiona and some teammates got a student house.
“My first year of res was a good opportunity to get to know some people outside of my program and outside of athletics. I’m glad that I chose to move into a house with teammates for the rest of my years though because they were the girls that I had the most in common with and spent a lot of my time with, outside of hockey as well.”
The schedule of an athlete is demanding and takes focus. Living with other athletes helped Fiona stay on the track with her goals in sport and in her studies.
“We are all in the same mindset and on the same schedule: early morning practices, weekend games, as well as eating well and staying on top of our classes so we’re eligible to play.”
Surrounding herself with people with similar mindsets aided Fiona’s success. It was helpful to be around other students working hard to manage their time.
“If you plan your time effectively there should be just enough time for school, sports, and social,” Fiona shared. “A lesson that was reinforced during my years as a student athlete was time management. I have always kept myself busy and been forced to manage my time but at university it was an even greater challenge to fit everything in and put a strong effort towards it all.”
Fiona plans to continue to challenge herself in the coming year, hoping to travel to Europe to play hockey for a season and travel. After travelling Fiona will enroll in school again.
“I plan to return to graduate school for an MSc in September 2014. In terms of a career, I am still very undecided.”
As this bright, young graduate heads into an exciting new chapter; she passes along some advice for students considering post-secondary level sports,
“It isn’t for everyone. You have to want to be at school for the academics as well, not just the athletics. It isn’t professional sport and if you don’t make the cut in the classroom, you get cut from your sport,” Fiona said, stressing the demand of competing and studying. The positives do, however, outweigh the negative, “Playing a sport you love at a competitive post-secondary level is a great opportunity, and I don’t know many varsity athletes who wouldn’t agree that it was a highlight in their athletic career. “
At the end of the season (or degree), it isn’t the 5:30 am mornings that fill your memories, but the 5-3 wins alongside a team that deserves it as much as you do.