TORONTO — Olympic trampoline champion Rosie MacLennan knows first-hand how difficult it can be to balance education with her athletic pursuits.
She has had to juggle her studies at the University of Toronto with making the regular commute to her trampoline club north of the city for four-hour training sessions.
MacLennan, who successfully defended her Olympic title last summer in Rio, said she feels fortunate to be in a situation where she can concentrate on her education as well as her sport.
Not all athletes have the same opportunities. That's one of the reasons why the Canadian Olympic Committee has teamed with the Smith School of Business at Queen's University for an eight-year strategic partnership that will provide scholarships for COC athletes.
"This has created a whole new realm of support," MacLennan said. "I think it's great knowing when you're training — and whether you use it during your career or after — it's there. I don't want to say it's like a safety net, but it's a resource you can tap into when you're ready. It's very open so that you can tailor it to what your needs are."
Up to 1,200 elite athletes, under the COC's Game Plan program, will be eligible for scholarships in a broad range of programs. There are satellite campus options and athletes who are still training may be able to take advantage of flexible learning options.
MacLennan, 28, has an undergraduate degree in physical education and health. She recently took a year off from school but has picked things up again and hopes to complete her master's degree in exercise science by June.
"It was tough at times," she said. "You always have to set out the immediate priority. If worlds was coming up, then obviously training and competing was the priority. Right after the Olympics, it was a great time to really buckle down and focus on getting school (work) done. It's constantly juggling but I think it really teaches you time management and to work efficiently.
"When you have an hour, you've got to get it done in an hour and you do. I think those are all skills that are translatable into careers after sport. But it was definitely challenging at times."
MacLennan was joined by canoeist Ben Russell, high jumper Nicole Forrester, swimmer Benoit Huot and other Canadian athletes for Thursday's announcement.
"The COC is committed to providing Canada's athletes with the tools they need to be successful on and off the field of play," said COC chief executive officer Chris Overholt. "Our first-ever partnership with an academic institution marks a significant step towards this commitment. We simply cannot ask our athletes to set aside their personal goals and aspirations for sport and for Canada and then not have a plan for them after they are done. We are excited to partner with such a world-class business school."
Scholarships will be available in a broad range of programs, including the business graduate diploma, the master of entrepreneurship and innovation, and a number of MBA programs.
"I think it's just another resource and I think it's a really valuable one," MacLennan said. "I think a lot of athletes, especially as they get to the end of their career, do see the value in education and how it can help that transition be smoother going into your next step."
The COC said it will also invest in enhanced leadership training with the Smith School for committee staff and other sporting community members through customized and open enrolment executive education programs.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press