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 2017 Winter Universiade (Winter University Games) 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 six from Western. This year, Canada will compete in cross country skiing for the first time since the 2013 Universiade.
Only six months ago, Vanderzwet, a first-year medical student in Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, thought she’d be hanging up her ski poles for good. After accepting her offer from Schulich and realizing there was no ski team at Western, she resigned herself to the fact her days of competitive skiing were behind her. When she got the invitation just a few weeks later to attend the games, she decided 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 started skiing at 18, relatively late for competitive skiers. She was initially drawn to skiing because of the people she got to train with but, as she progressed, she started to appreciate the ongoing learning and challenge of the sport. Prior to her arrival at Western, she trained with the University of Guelph ski team, roller skiing around parking lots and even skiing in farmers’ fields when there was enough snow. While studying in Ottawa, she joined the Nakkertok Nordic racing program – one of the largest and most productive racing programs in the country – and learned proper training, racing, and ski techniques from her head coach and fellow athletes.
Training in London, however, hasn’t been ideal. Vanderzwet got in some of her training with the cross-country running team at Western, after contending with a mild fall last year and a winter that saw almost no snow on the ground in London. She looked for opportunities and managed to travel to areas with more snow coverage, where she could get some better ski training – all while managing the demanding medical school curriculum. Even with all the challenges and schedule balancing, she wouldn’t have it any other way, she said.
“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.”
Sounding evermore like a medical student, Vanderzwet said it’s the “neurohormonal changes” in your body, that are a result of vigorous exercise, that drive some of that energy and motivation. For her success and motivation, she also credits many of the lessons learned in sport, which she believes play out in everyday life: having the right mindset, thinking positively and making plans you can follow through with, 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 would just like to walk away from the experience knowing 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.”
Vanderzwet 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 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.
She raced earlier this week and is scheduled to race again on Feb. 2 and 7.
ABOUT THE GAMES
The Universiade (Winter University Games) is a multi-sport event that brings together thousands of university athletes from around the globe. The name is a combination of the words “university” and “Olympiad.” It is the largest multi-sport event in the world, apart from the Olympic Games.