HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Hockey’s Amy Graham and soccer’s Megan Frost entered St. Francis Xavier University as student-athletes. But they’re leaving with a coveted third title: leader.
After four years of extracurricular studying, the Ottawa natives were part of a select group of 11 to earn the Leaders of Distinction award for 2020-21. It’s the highest honour given by the St. Francis Xavier Leadership Academy.
Graham and Frost were honoured in a live webcast celebration earlier this month, since the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled its traditional banquet. Student-athletes go through a rigorous evaluation process to receive the award.
The Leadership Academy is open to all first-year student-athletes, but the number of program participants narrows each year as it focuses on three specific areas: Emerging Leaders, Veteran Leaders and Leadership 360.
The academy is affiliated with the (Jeff) Janssen Sports Leadership Centre and provides comprehensive leadership training and development for Xavier student-athletes. It’s a unique program among Canadian universities.
At the conclusion of the monthly, 90-minute leadership classes over four years, the student-athletes are asked to assess themselves. Their coaches and teammates also evaluate those student-athletes on their leadership abilities.
If the student-athlete achieves a certain score or higher, that individual will become one of the university’s Leaders of Distinction.
“When I was recruited, someone brought me into the St. Francis Xavier Leadership Academy,” Graham said in an interview. “I walked into the lounge and there were plaques up on the walls. I had heard good things about the program.
“You develop tangible life skills. I wanted to strive to be on that board… and make a big impact. Community is important to me.”
Graham, a fourth-year human kinetics student who hopes to enter medical school at Dalhousie University or the University of Toronto in September, was humbled by the award, especially learning how she was scored by her coaches and teammates.
“You hope you are leading in the right direction. This is something I will have for the rest of my life. When I need some encouragement, I can go back to this,” signalled Graham, who won the Athletic Director’s Award as the top female academic student-athlete the last three years.
“What it means to me is the work I’m doing is having a positive impact,” added the Nepean Wildcats product. “I try to do my best to help and to be meaningful. It’s good to stop and share the leadership.”
Frost, a fifth-year accounting student who is considering returning to Xavier in 2021-22 to use her final year of athletic eligibility which was lost this season because of the pandemic, became an on-field leader because of the program.
“It’s really nice to know you are doing something right. Personally, I can be a demanding leader. I worried that I was rubbing people the wrong way,” Frost said. “But I appreciated how people responded and looked up to me.”
A three-time Academic All-Canadian, Frost also enjoyed meeting student-athletes from other Xavier sports teams to “talk about issues and get other people’s perspectives.”
Both Graham and Frost were disappointed their 2020-21 seasons were cancelled by the pandemic. But they were uplifted by their respective and regular on-ice and on-field training sessions and fitness workouts.
“It was definitely a mindset shift,” Graham said. “The program meant a lot to me and I wanted to be my best. I wanted to help prepare everyone for next year. It’s important to play a role at practice and bring some excitement.”
Frost said having no soccer “was so strange.”
“I’m not sure how to describe it,” added the Glebe Collegiate Institute grad. “It’s the first year of my life where I didn’t have a soccer season. But I also don’t believe how lucky we were to have had practices and strength training.”
When the Xavier athletics department announced its varsity athletic award winners for 2020-21, Frost was named the most valuable teammate on the women’s soccer squad. Teammate Amanda Smith of Ottawa won the Coaches’ Award.
Three other Ottawa athletes earned Xavier athletic honours: Kimberly Kingsbury, most valuable teammate, and Grace Rheault, Iron X Award, in women’s basketball; and Zakariya Karim, most valuable teammate, football.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.