Before joining the U of T Varsity Blues this summer, Amelia Narduzzo had set aside competitive swimming for years so she could better navigate her undergraduate studies.
“For three to four years in total I stopped for a multitude of reasons,” said Narduzzo, who graduated from Western University this past spring and will swim for the Blues in the 800-metre freestyle.
More than anything, she had difficulty sorting her life as a student athlete and felt generally taxed physically and mentally. But, she then rekindled a love for learning.
“I have been to that rock bottom place where I wanted to quit and I'm honestly one of the rare ones who does come back at an older age,” says Narduzzo, now 21-years-old. “I realized that I actually missed swimming. So then in third and my fourth year, I joined the team, and my grades actually got better—way better.”
And, as a third- and fourth-year student, she broke personal bests in the pool, finally reaching echelons she once thought were impossible. “It just goes to show you that student athletes are a different breed sometimes,” she said. “We can make it happen, but it just takes that extra hour in the morning and at night. Yeah, you have to make sacrifices.”
It is that discipline, that mentality, that has seen her excel in the classroom as well. With a focus on primary and junior education, Narduzzo comes to OISE looking to make real a lifelong love for education and educational leadership – a passion that has been burning since middle school.
“I always enjoyed learning. I would notice that different teachers made different impacts on me, for the better or worse, and I just resonated with the ones who really took the time to help me out,” she said.
So when Narduzzo was looking to commence graduate studies, keep swimming at a high level, and return to her hometown Toronto, OISE was a perfect fit.
The Blues’ swim head coach, Byron MacDonald, thought so too.
“The recruiting was a bit easier than most because Amelia is from Toronto and was likely heading to U of T as her first choice no matter what. The swim team became a bonus,” said MacDonald. “I had also seen her as a high schooler as her club team actually rents time at the U of T Athletic Centre.”
The recruiting process came late for Narduzzo, as she only found the courage to email MacDonald earlier this year. “I told him, ‘Hey, my trajectory is positive right now,’” she said. “‘I know I don't have many times yet because I'm still pretty new.’ I gave my whole story.”
He responded, but wanted to touch base later in the year. So, when Narduzzo was training with Toronto Swim Club at the Athletic Centre, MacDonald was able to get a better look.
“Byron came up to me and he said, ‘How would you feel if I told you that you're on the team?,’” she remembers, candidly.
In quick succession, Narduzzo has honed a solid relationship with MacDonald and Linda Kiefer, the team’s assistant head coach. The key for her will be managing everything on her plate, at OISE and in the pool.
MacDonald understands this deeply, especially considering the rigours of the team and her event. “Amelia is a distance swimmer and it's one of the tougher events to master as there is so much training involved,” he said, “The training is at a very high threshold (heart rate) – more so than many of the other swimmers.
“As such, Amelia has to have a great internal drive and motivation to stay with that intensity day after day. And, as she is one of the smaller swimmers, she has to be even tougher to overcome the strength advantage some of her rivals will have.”
But, he says, she has all the tools to succeed in her role. “Amelia trained with our group this summer as she returned home after graduating from Western,” he said. “I was impressed with her persistence and drive to get better.”
And now, as she did when her swim career at Western blossomed, Narduzzo has the support system that helps her focus on all her responsibilities.
“I find that a strong support system is what makes or breaks you as a student athlete,” she says. “Because if you don't have people around you—that support system—then you crumble because there's only so much you can do by yourself.