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U of T helps athletes get jump on their careers

Trampoline stars prepare for next steps as they graduate

Two Olympic trampoline competitors, Sarah Gairdner (left) and Rosie MacLennan, graduate from U of T this fall. (Photo by Caz Zyvatkauskas)

As Rosie MacLennan prepares for convocation, the gold medallist at the Pan Am games in Mexico is already missing U of T - and looking for ways to give back.

Since 2006, the close-knit community at the Faculty of Physical Education and Health has helped MacLennan cope with studying for her BPHE while training and competing in trampoline around the world.

“In the past, I would always bring my homework when I competed and do a lot of reading before training and after training or after the competition, so it’s very different not having classes,” MacLennan said. “I always enjoyed studying -- it keeps you balanced and productive and gives you something else to do, something else to focus on if you have a bad day in training.”

MacLennan usually carried a full course load, cutting back only slightly in the months leading up to the summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008. There, she qualified in third place for the finals before finishing in seventh place.

“The opening ceremony was one of my favorite moments: you walk down this ramp and you can only see a tiny bit of the crowd in the stadium at first but you can feel the energy and you hear this sort of roar - the entire team broke into the national anthem.”

Research opportunities and mentors

MacLennan chose U of T after consulting her close friend and former training partner Sarah (Charles) Gairdner. A retired world champion in double mini trampoline, Gairdner completed her BPHE at U of T in 2009 and is now a PhD candidate, graduating with her MSc this fall.

“I’m from a small town and I loved the big city feel and the beautiful campus at U of T and the academic prestige of the institution,” Gairdner said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do at first but coming here turned out to be one of the most amazing learning experiences of my life.”

Part of that learning experience involved coming to grips with the caliber of the students at U of T.

“In high school I was really good at everything, academics and sport – and then to come here and get say a 75 per cent instead of a 99 per cent or find that there are a thousand students who are better than you at calculus – it really elevates you,” said Gairdner. “It’s not a bad thing to not be the best at everything: it’s good, it helps you define what area you should be in, it pushes you towards things  that work with you – and that’s why I think I ended up here at this faculty.”

Mentors such as Professor Gretchen Kerr and assistant professor Cathy Amara encouraged Gairdner to recognize the insights she had into the life of the athlete and build on her strengths with a master’s in degree science focused on disordered eating in animal models. Her PhD will include behavioral aspects of disordered eating, as well as physiology.

“That’s the amazing thing about this faculty, that you can do cross-disciplinary work,” said Gairdner. “If you’re studying something like eating disorders it’s very hard to study just the physiology or just the psychology of it because it’s such a complex disorder.”

For MacLennan, the academic highlights included an internship with the Canadian Olympic Committee, a research project with Professor Margaret MacNeill - “the most giving professor you can imagine” -- and a stint studying the globalization of sport last summer in London, England.

“The faculty’s really supportive and I’m really interested in the socio-behavioral aspects of sports – areas I didn’t even know existed before I came here,” MacLennan said. “I want to apply for a master’s at U of T in the same faculty.”

In the meantime, MacLennan and Gairdner are already working on ways to give back to U of T.

“U of T has been so supportive - we want to show our gratitude,” Gairdner said. “We’re talking to other athletes who can help out, raise awareness and maybe help raise some funds for the Goldring Centre because having a sports meds centre, gym and sport science laboratories all in one place right here on campus, that will be amazing.”