U of T swimmer rediscovers the pool – and the positive impact of athletics

Amelia Narduzzo will compete in the 800-metre freestyle while studying for her master’s degree in teaching at OISE

Despite the challenges of being a student athlete, Amelia Narduzzo says her grades improved during her undergraduate years after she decided to return to competitive swimming (supplied image) 

Before joining the University of Toronto Varsity Blues this summer, Amelia Narduzzo had set aside competitive swimming for years so she could better navigate her undergraduate studies.

“For three to four years in total I stopped for a multitude of reasons,” says Narduzzo, who graduated from Western University this past spring and is now studying for her master’s degree in teaching at U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).

Although Narduzzo initially struggled as a student athlete, she found her way back to the sport she loved before graduating – and will now swim for the Blues in the 800-metre freestyle this year.

“I realized that I actually missed swimming," says Narduzzo, 21. “So then in third and my fourth year, I joined the team, and my grades actually got better – way better.”

As a third- and fourth-year student at Western, she broke personal bests in the pool, finally reaching a level she once thought was impossible.

“It just goes to show you that student athletes are a different breed sometimes,” she says. “We can make it happen, but it just takes that extra hour in the morning and at night. Yeah, you have to make sacrifices.”

It’s that discipline that has seen her excel in the classroom as well. With a focus on primary and junior education, Narduzzo comes to OISE looking to realize a lifelong love for education and educational leadership – a passion she has held since middle school.

“I always enjoyed learning,” she says. “I would notice that different teachers made different impacts on me, for the better or worse, and I just resonated with the ones who really took the time to help me out.” 

When Narduzzo was looking to begin graduate studies, keep swimming at a high level and return to her hometown Toronto, OISE was a natural fit.

The Blues’ swim head coach, Byron MacDonald, thought so too.

“The recruiting was a bit easier than most because Amelia is from Toronto and was likely heading to U of T as her first choice no matter what. The swim team became a bonus,” MacDonald says. “I had also seen her as a high schooler, as her club team actually rents time at the U of T Athletic Centre.”

(supplied image)

The recruiting process came late for Narduzzo, as she only found the courage to email MacDonald earlier this year. “I told him, ‘Hey, my trajectory is positive right now,’” she says. “‘I know I don't have many times yet because I'm still pretty new.’

“I gave my whole story.”

MacDonald responded and asked to touch base later in the year. So, when Narduzzo was training with Toronto Swim Club at the Athletic Centre, MacDonald came to get a better look.

“Byron came up to me and he said, ‘How would you feel if I told you that you're on the team?,’” she recalls.

Narduzzo has since honed a solid relationship with MacDonald and Linda Kiefer, the team’s assistant head coach.

The key for her, MacDonald says, will be managing everything on her plate, at OISE and in the pool.

“Amelia is a distance swimmer and it's one of the tougher events to master as there is so much training involved,” he says. “As such, Amelia has to have a great internal drive and motivation to stay with that intensity day after day. And, as she is one of the smaller swimmers, she has to be even tougher to overcome the strength advantage some of her rivals will have.”

Despite the challenges, MacDonald says Narduzzo has all the tools she needs to succeed. “Amelia trained with our group this summer as she returned home after graduating from Western,” he says. “I was impressed with her persistence and drive to get better.”

Narduzzo says staying focused on her many responsibilities will be a team effort.

“I find that a strong support system is what makes or breaks you as a student athlete,” she says. “Because if you don't have people around you – that support system – then you crumble because there's only so much you can do by yourself.”