University is a place for students to discover where we want to go and who we want to become. Along the way, we find opportunities to apply the things we’ve learned in the classroom to the places we find ourselves outside of it.
For Stef Smith, her five years running cross-country for the Windsor Lancers have provided her with a space that combines education with interest, and has taught her what she wants to run towards.
Studying Human Kinetics, there are several things that are obvious crossovers between Smith’s varsity and class schedules: the anatomy and physiology of a runner; the nutritious value in each protein source; the importance of sociology in the world of sport. But the area that has piqued Smith’s interest the most is sport psychology.
To hear Smith speak of competing, this does not come as even a slight surprise. The passion with which she describes that place where athletes go — one which is even a bit more unique for runners — makes it apparent that she is an athlete who is very in-tune with the inner workings of her competitive mind.
This is incredibly important in racing sports, where the goal is to constantly be better than you were the last time, while also trying to be better than everybody else on any given race day. The approach to this could be one that stresses athletes out; constantly competing against different runners from various schools with different training plans.
“You are focusing on your own performance and trying to better yourself each day, but you’re also very competitive and you want to beat certain people on other teams,” explained Smith. “At the end of the day, it’s just about trying to focus on what you can control and your own training, workouts, and practices, and not getting caught up in what other people are doing.”
This concept of control allows Smith to excel, feel a sense of accomplishment, and leads to a gritty demeanour that contributes to her success. Combined with her passionate energy, her grit has led her to be a record-holder at Windsor in the indoor mile and the 3000m.
“In Windsor, they always try to breed the idea that hard work will only get you so far. You have to be gritty, and you have to be a grinder,” added Smith. “A lot of my motivation is trying to make the people who have been alongside me with this journey, to make them proud.”
Being a hard worker, and being prepared to be tough on top of that, are what have led to Smith’s success in her running career, and what will continue to contribute to her success afterwards.
It only seems natural that she has this interest in sport psychology, after being drawn in by everything that comes after hard work. As it is such a culture at Windsor, it has become Smith’s job to pass this on to her younger teammates and to keep the cycle flowing as she prepares to move into life after her Lancer career.
However, the most interesting piece that Smith mentioned when speaking of her connection with the first-year athletes was not what she can teach them, but what they can teach her.
“Seeing people in their first year putting on their jersey and they’re just so happy,” she said. “Sometimes when you get to your upper-years you forget that and you take it for granted. Then, when you see someone do it for the first time you remember that feeling.”
The feeling of elation and excitement is not replicable outside of a sport setting. The reminder of appreciation from those who are younger, however, is a lesson that can be taken into so many aspects of life. Like the way a child has interest in every flower, and every colour — this happiness fades as we move on in life. As we transition through our university careers, we sometimes forget the reason for starting at all.
Smith is someone who has held onto this feeling throughout her experiences. Her passion for school, running, and Windsor are more than evident, and when she speaks of what she will miss, it is obvious that the connections she has made add value to her life.
“The relationship and bond you build with teammates is different than a friendship. You see each other at your worst and you can see them totally elated at their best,” described Smith.
Those ups and downs are what make sport what it is, and the balance between sport psychology and understanding the mind is what make athletes even better. From where Smith stands, she is in a good position to have this influence in the lives of those around her, now and in the future.