University students have a lot on their plates. Full course loads, living away from home for the first time, social life and work all conspire to deprive students of their time. But anyone who thinks they have a lot going on, hasn’t met a student who has to balance academics and a job to sustain themselves on top of being a top-tier varsity athlete.
Claire Thorimbert finished her fourth-year as a centre-back on the Mount Royal women’s soccer team and was voted most valuable teammate last season. She is one of a handful of Cougar athletes who has their calendars booked up year-round.
Thorimbert, 21, is studying anthropology and currently works part-time at Anthropologie, a women's clothing store in Chinook mall.
Thorimbert has worked there since November 2017. Before that she worked at Blue Devils golf course in the southeast. She switched jobs because the golf season had ended by November and was looking for a second job for second semester.
She started working during her third year because like most university students, she needed money to pay for expenses.
“I don't live with my parents. I live on my own so I need to pay for rent, groceries and saving up for grad school,” Thorimbert says. “So having extra cash to supplement scholarship money is kinda nice.”
During the off-season, she works around 10 to 20 hours a week, but she also adjusts her schedule to make sure she doesn't miss out on training or academics.
“It's difficult to balance time for homework and shifts because I do work in the evenings after having class during the day.”
"There's always times where it’s hard but any time I feel like it's falling apart, I remember why I’m doing it." - Claire Thorimbert
Thorimbert’s ambition after graduation is not to pursue a professional soccer career like some of her teammates. Instead, she wants to carry on with academics.
“I am in the process of looking at grad schools now and possibly move overseas to England or Scotland to get my masters in archaeology,” Thorimbert explains.
School is a priority, but the stress of balancing commitments is still evident in the athlete’s life.
“There's always times where it’s hard but any time I feel like it's falling apart, I remember why I’m doing it. No one is forcing you to play sports or go to school,” she explains.“There are more pros than cons so I always remind myself of that.”
On top of school and sports, Thorimbert also makes time for extracurriculars. Since October, she has been coaching an elementary basketball team at a school where her mom teaches. Though it helps fill required volunteer time for MRU student-athletes, it can be a source of tension.
“Coaching takes a lot more than just the time you’re being there, you have to plan and go through things on your own time,” she says.
“It can get hard to balance everything because you get tired after practice and you want to sleep and rest but you’ve got to do homework the next day because you work and won't have enough time.” says Thorimbert.
On the Field
Thorimbert isn’t the only Cougar who works in the off-season of course. However, she and her teammates need to be fully committed by Aug. 20, a few weeks before the start of the regular season.
“They understand that some of us need to work but the expectation is always that your academics and your sports come first...It's not acceptable for us to miss that because of our work,” she says.
During off-season training, which is six times a week, Thorimbert asked for shorter weekend shifts in the evening to give her more study time during the day.
“As hard as it sounds, find time for yourself, get some rest. You can't do anything properly if you're super tired and make sure your healthy.”
Last season, Thorimbert would have class until 3pm, then practice in the evening. She usually works Mondays and Fridays, but Thorimbert had to cut her work hours because life was simply too busy between training and a full school load.
Weekends are consumed by either hosting games in Calgary, or being on the road for games away from home during the fall months.
It’s a lot, but Thorimbert says she’s had supportive bosses and co-workers. Her coaches also understand that some of their athletes need to work, but show tough love in that regard.
Cougars women’s soccer bench-boss Tino Fusco is generally supportive of working players, but wants to continue to build a winning culture at MRU, part of that he says, is getting to know his players’ needs and wants off the pitch.
“If it was my preference, I would not allow our players work during our competitive phase but sometimes that is just not the case,” says Fusco. “We’re transitioning in that in the sense of what’s a good balance between work and being a university athlete.”
Fusco has been with the women’s program since 2011 but being a former varsity player at the University of Saskatchewan, he understands the stress and the demand put on the players.
“A lot of it is human touch.,” Fusco says. “To say ‘OK, how is this benefiting you and how are you still benefiting the program?’”
Teaching Life Experience
Director of MRU Cougar athletics Karla Karch says it is “difficult being a youth of today with more forces…for or against them than there's ever been,” but she believes that this balance of life and sport is beneficiary for after university.
“We teach life through sport,” Karch notes. “At the end of the day we want these people to leave MRU as better citizens.”
“It's about choices...many of our students athletes will have their five years here and then they’re done their sport. There's opportunity, but eventually it has to end, and if those athletes don't have their academics and they are not well-rounded people, we failed.”
The life experiences are a major part in the goal of Cougar athletics in developing these varsity athletes.
Fusco praises Thorimbert, his now only fifth-year senior left on his squad, for her dedication to both the Cougars and the life around it.
“She's first-class. She can manage her time in the classroom, she’s a top student. On the field on the training environment she is there, when she does stuff on her own she gets stuff done on her own.”
Fusco adds, “Claire brought value to the program not necessary on the field or in the classroom, but with what she brought to her teammates and how she helped shape our culture and our program.”
“Claire isn't defined by being a soccer player, shes grown as a person and as a teammate by what she's done here and that's I think is the greatest accomplishment.”
- By Dan Khavkin