By Martin Cleary
Sisters Zoe and Bronwyn Williams of Chelsea, Que., know all the joys and hardships associated with being a university student-athlete.
They’re familiar with their academic demands of studying neuroscience/mental health and psychology, respectively, as well as the athletic challenges of training and racing as national-level cross-country skiers.
But when you add those two full-time assignments together, you sometimes get a big surprise. The Williams sisters from Carleton University recently learned their resumes earned them berths on Team Canada for the 30th FISU Winter Universiade, which runs Dec. 11-21 in Lucerne, Switzerland.
Canada will send a team of 102 student-athletes, who will compete in men’s and women’s hockey, men’s and women’s curling, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, snowboarding and short-track speed skating. The team size jumps to 144 with the inclusion of coaches and mission staff.
The National Capital Region will be represented by 10 athletes in five sports, two hockey coaches and one mission staff member.
Being named to the U Sports team for the World University Games is a great honour, though it comes with a huge price tag for a post-secondary student already dealing with the costs of tuition, books and other expenses.
But the Williams sisters turned that potential negative into a positive by initiating a MakeAChamp fundraising campaign. The cost to represent Canada at the FISU Games is about $4,500 for each student-athlete. They established a game plan, much like a ski race, and set a combined goal of $8,000.
As Zoe, who graduated last spring and was scheduled to leave for Lausanne on Friday to get acclimatized and begin on-snow training, and Bronwyn, who leaves in early December, enter the final five days of fundraising, they can breathe a lot easier. They have exceeded their goal by raising $8,865 as of Friday afternoon.
The Williams not only welcomed donations, but also put each person’s name in a draw for weekly prizes from businesses and items made by Bronwyn, a talented seamstress. Bronwyn made five sweaters, more than 50 hair scrunchies and several reusable carrying bags.
During the five-week fundraising campaign, they gave away prizes from Une Boulangerie dans un Village in Chelsea, The Merry Dairy ice cream shop in Ottawa, Rock’s End Farm in Farrellton, Que., and artist Jesse Williams, their brother.
“Balancing athletics and academics is a lot and then throw in how much it all costs. At the end of the day, you only have so much time. It was tough to fit in much more,” Zoe said in a telephone interview about creating the MakeAChamp fundraiser.
“It makes it more exciting,” Bronwyn added. “I made the draw prizes … (to) make it more personal and meaningful.”
The Williams, who also hold part-time jobs, will compete in four individual races at the FISU Games – 5-kilometre classic on Dec. 12, 5-kilometre skate pursuit on Dec. 13, classic sprint on Dec. 15, and the 15-kilometre mass start classic on Dec. 19. Their individual results will determine if they’ll compete in the 3×5-kilometre relay on Dec. 16 and the two-skier mixed team sprint on Dec. 18.
“It’s super exciting,” Bronwyn commented on being named to her first national FISU team. “For the last four years, it has been mine and Zoe’s goal to go to the FISU Games together. It will be super fun. I have never been to Europe before.
“It means more to me than just skiing in races. I’ll be able to share this experience with my sister.”
Zoe is equally excited to race for Canada at the major university games.
“Even though I’ve graduated, it will be my last time representing Carleton University. It has been an incredible journey racing for Carleton.”
Zoe represented Carleton at four Ontario University Athletics cross-country skiing championships and won multiple individual and relay medals. She won both individual women’s races at the 2018 and 2019 provincial championships.
Bronwyn has competed in only one OUA championship, but earned silver and bronze medals in 2020.
“University athletes don’t always get a lot of credit,” Bronwyn stated. “It’s really hard for athletes to balance school and athletics.
“The FISU Games are a great way to show that student-athletes care about both athletics and academics equally.”
“Throughout my degree,” Zoe said, “I wanted to show I can balance my high-performance athletics, but not sacrifice my academics.”
The Williams sisters, who also race for the Nakkertok Ski Club, were grateful for the region’s financial support.
“It’s a testament to the great community in Ottawa,” Bronwyn said. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without the clubs and skiers. They’re supporting our dreams.”
Zoe was equally impressed, but also for another reason.
“Besides the donations, we had so many lovely messages, reaching out and sending their love and support,” she added.
The team of six cross-country skiers, three men and three women, almost included another Carleton racer. Aidan Kirkham, who is now taking his masters at the University of Ottawa, broke his hand about a month ago during a training session.
The other members of the Canadian FISU Games team from the National Capital Region are:
Zoe Pekos, Richmond, B.C., University of Ottawa, biology;
Shilo Rousseau, Thessalon, ON., University of Ottawa, biology;
Hunter Watson, Ottawa, Plymouth State University, finance;
Robert Lyon-Hatcher, Ottawa, Wilfrid Laurier University, psychology;
Liam Hawel, Arnprior, ON., St. Francis Xavier University, business administration;
Nicolas Rivet-Mattinen, Ottawa, University of Ottawa, human kinetics;
Christine Deaudelin, Beloeil, Que., University of Ottawa, criminology;
Aurelle Dubuc, Trois-Rivieres, Que., University of Ottawa, physical education science;
Patrick Grandmaitre, assistant coach, University of Ottawa;
Greg Bowles, team leader/assistant coach, University of Ottawa;
Nadine Smith, Carleton University, therapist.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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