One of the key aspects of student-athlete success, both on and off the field, is being able to manage one’s time and have a flexible schedule to allow for training and study, and work and play. Isabelle Casgrain, a 20-year-old management major at the John Molson School of Business, is also an athlete—an elite equestrian show jumper at that—but is currently juggling school and training with no support from the school’s athletic or academic departments.
“In CEGEP [at André-Grasset] I was part of a sport-études program, and that allowed me to have midterms and exams moved so that I could compete and train properly,” said Casgrain.
“They would organize my schedule with me, so we would make my schedule in such a way that would be advantageous for me.”
“I arrived here, and there was nothing. There’s support for varsity athletes, but for independent student athletes [not on varsity teams] there was no support, no knowledge. There was pretty much nothing they could do for me.”
Casgrain has battled through the early morning wake-up calls and late bedtimes because of training, classes, studying, and travelling, but she has not buckled under the pressure. She’s had worse days, having suffered major injuries in a show-jumping accident in 2011.
But, she’s bounced back from that and is now one of the top ranked show jumpers in the country in seventh place. She’s accomplished this at the same time as having to deal with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which sometimes leads to bouts of hyperactivity.
Yet, despite all of the obstacles in her way, she is still focused on the issue at hand: getting independent athletes at Concordia to be treated like varsity athletes.
“I think we’re just as important as the varsity athletes and we’re part of this school just as much as they are,” said Casgrain. “I would be honoured to carry the Stingers logo—I’m just not allowed to.”
Casgrain contacted the associate director of Student Athlete Services, John Bower, at the beginning of August, and asked about the school’s elite athlete designation, but was told she was not eligible for it because she was not a varsity athlete.
At the time, Casgrain asked if there was anything else available, but the major turnover in the athletics department —with the likes of Bower and new athletic director Patrick Boivin just recently joining the department and still learning the ropes of their new jobs— became a handcuff in representing a chance to create new opportunities for student-athletes like Casgrain and delayed any possibility of Casgrain getting immediate help.
According to Bower, there is some infrastructure currently in place to help students like Casgrain, but the accessibility of services offered by the Department of Recreation and Athletics is still a work and progress. The crux of the issue is giving the classification of “varsity athlete” to independent athletes like Casgrain.
“In the context of Isabelle Casgrain, we are talking about students who are recognized by the Alliance Sport-Études, of which Concordia is a partner,” said Bower. “In general, these are either students who have been identified by their provincial sport organization as being, or having the potential of being national or international calibre athletes in a variety of individual sports. This was brought to my attention in August when Isabelle first contacted us asking to be recognized as a ‘varsity athlete.’”
Bower went on to say, “Any student-athlete who is recognized by the Alliance Sport-Études has access to the Stingers ACE (Academic Centre of Excellence) program, which includes assisting with the student-athlete in selecting courses, liaising with professors and faculties, helping find tutors, etc.”
“The university also permits these students to have flexible or modified schedules to accommodate their competitions and training schedules,” Bower continued. “It should be noted that these students are not considered to be ‘varsity athletes’ as that designation is reserved for students who compete for Stinger teams in recognized sports leagues, for example the CIS or RSEQ.”
Casgrain’s situation has raised several questions for the athletics department. With the new administration this fall, Bower only found out about the Alliance Sport-Études program once both Casgrain’s and the Stingers’ competitive seasons began.
However, Bower and Casgrain will be meeting in the near future to begin to set up the foundation for supporting independent student-athletes down the road and how to integrate them further into the Stingers’ sports culture.
Meanwhile, Casgrain is continuing to manage her hectic schedule. Her goals are set and the future looks bright —we might even see her competing in an Olympic Games one day. She dreams of one day being able to go to the mecca of equestrian, Great Britain, and train there while getting a master’s degree.
Right now, though, she’s not only looking to help herself, but other current and future independent athletes at the school. If all goes according to plan, we could be seeing a new swarm of Stingers joining the athletics department sooner than we think.