Award lets grad student put both oars in

Paul Mayne // Western NewsKinesiology graduate student Maude Potvin-Gilbert has received a fellowship from the Richard J. Schmeelk Canada Foundation, offered to Canadian students with bachelor’s degrees who wish to pursue graduate studies outside their province in the opposite Canadian official language.

It may seem odd Maude Potvin-Gilbert’s research encompasses the sport of rowing when, to be honest, she has never rowed. Ever.

“As an athlete, coming from a high-performance sport, I wanted to continue to be in that frame of reference,” said Potvin-Gilbert, a former member of the Canadian freestyle (aerobatic) ski team. “It was going to be hard to do something within my sport. So, I knew at that time (Kinesiology professor) Volker (Nolte) was head coach of rowing team and also coaching the national team. I found that interesting and knew I’d be able to learn a lot from him.”

Toward that work, Potvin-Gilbert recently received a fellowship from the Richard J. Schmeelk Canada Foundation, offered to Canadian students with bachelor’s degrees who wish to pursue graduate studies outside their province in the opposite Canadian official language.

Through its university partners – University of Calgary, Université Laval, Université de Montréal and Western – the fellowship aims to build tolerance and understanding between anglophone and francophone Canadians across the country and encourage more effective collaboration and trust through the promotion of intercultural awareness and interprovincial studies.

Potvin-Gilbert, who completed her BS (Kinesiology) from Laval, is pursuing a Master of Science in Integrative Biosciences in Kinesiology at Western. Her research project, which will receive $10,000 per term, renewable for a maximum of $40,000, studies the relationship between motor variability in rowing, fatigue, environment and potential injuries.

“I’m looking at the rowing movement – and doing the same motion over and over – in the beginning, and the change at the end of a race, and seeing how the change of that motion can impact muscle fatigue,” Potvin-Gilbert said. “It’s not about the angle, but the variability of the motion, to see if it does change and, if so, what can be related to that change.”

Her work will help athletes and coaches understand how repeating the same motion may not be the best method, as repetitive use of the same muscles tires them more quickly and increases the chance of injury.

“As a coach, there is a different way you need to speak to your athletes, which is different than a researcher,” said Potvin-Gilbert who coaches freestyle sports in Quebec. “We (coaches and researchers) can really exchange ideas about this. Coming from another sport, I don’t have all the background (in rowing) somebody like Volker would. But that could be a benefit, since I may have a different point of view coming from a different sport.”

A passionate skier, Potvin-Gilbert was a member of the Québec freestyle ski team as well as the Canadian freestyle ski team from 2011-14. Through her coaching, she introduced the sport to hundreds of youth in Ontario and Québec. Furthermore, through volunteering as a tutor with the Cour ta Réussite program, she promotes academic perseverance, healthy lifestyles and the integration of new immigrants through participation in sports.

Potvin-Gilbert said the Schmeelk fellowship will be helpful in allowing her to focus more time on her research.

“It’s telling you that your work is valuable and that someone outside your program sees what you’re doing has merit,” she said. “There are ups and downs, a lot of digitizing at the moment, but I really enjoy analyzing the data and reading the literature. Finishing my masters, learning new stuff and contributing to new knowledge keeps me going and keeps me focused on my work. Having that support (fellowship) behind me, I can focus more on my research now, but will still be able to do coaching a little bit – so I’m super happy.”