Hundreds of uOttawa students will walk across the stage at Spring Convocation this week, celebrating a great milestone achievement. For Katherine Bearne and Montana Champagne, a pair of Gee-Gees varsity student-athletes, the ceremonies top off a year of successes which included National Championship victories and will be followed by an upcoming trip to Naples, Italy to represent Canada.
Katherine Bearne (HonBSc in Physics-Mathematics and Minor in Economics) has been an academic stand-out for her entire career at uOttawa, and her excellence extends to the soccer field. For five seasons she has maintained one of the top GPAs in her faculty while also earning two Ontario University Athletics conference championships and four individual awards as a conference all-star at midfield, even after returning from knee surgery. In 2017 she was named one of the Top 8 Academic All-Canadians from across Canada, and attended an event with Governor General Julie Payette.
In 2018, the Halifax, N.S. product was named an All-Canadian player for the second straight season and helped lift the Gee-Gees to a national championship win. She has scored more than 20 goals for the Gee-Gees over four seasons and was named as one of the Valedictorians for the Faculty of Science. She is a two-time winner of the Gee-Gees President's Award as the student-athlete who best combines athletics, academics, and community engagement, and she will represent Canada for the first time this summer at the 2019 Universiade in Naples, Italy along with three of her Gee-Gees soccer teammates.
"My initial reaction was just shock – our Faculty is pretty big and there are a lot of really smart and talented people in the Faculty, so it was shocking that they would choose me when I know that there are so many deserving people," says Bearne of her selection as Valedictorian. "I want to get the message across about what we've done here as a group in the Faculty and what all of us will be able to go on to do in the future."
On her return from Naples, Bearne will play one final year of soccer with the Gee-Gees while starting her Master's in physics under the supervision of Dr. Robert Boyd. Knowing that her academic career will continue, Bearne still appreciates that her undergraduate convocation is an important milestone. "If you look at everything in the long term, those goals can get a bit overwhelming," she explains. "It's nice to have these little breaks in the road to celebrate. Things in themselves are a big deal – you did accomplish something already and it's a great feeling."
Montana Champagne (HonBCom, Human Resource Management) will walk across the stage knowing that his five years of work academically and in the Montpetit pool have paid off. His final year of studies was his best; he became an Academic All-Canadian for the first time with an average of better than 80 per cent while he was simultaneously making history in the pool. At the 2019 U SPORTS National Swimming Championships, Champagne won gold medals in the 200-metre and 400-metre individual medley events, setting a national record in the 200m. It was the third straight year that Champagne captured a gold medal at the national championship, giving him four total over his career: a Gee-Gees record. Champagne won eight national medals in total – two silvers and two bronzes along with his four golds – making him the most decorated student-athlete in school history. Just before exams began this April, the Ottawa local qualified to represent Canada at the 2019 Universiade, an international multi-sport event which will feature athletes from 127 countries.
"Right around third year things started turning around and going really well. I'm happy to graduate as an Academic All-Canadian – that's a point of pride. I just had to get my feet planted in terms of balancing work, school, and swimming. I was also able to gain an appreciation for what I wanted to learn and what I wanted to do. That was my biggest area of growth. I've always had people helping me throughout my university career – there were academic advisors, there were Sports Services staff members, my parents and friends who all came together to help me and I'm pretty grateful for that."
Looking ahead to holding his degree in hand, Champagne compares the tangible evidence of his swimming successes with his academic achievement. "It'll be just like having a medal because it's physical proof that you were able to achieve something. I'll be just as proud of that as any of my medals because it's a culmination of all my work towards it."
Following his graduation, Montana is planning to continue working at his current employer, Scotiabank, while training for the 2020 Olympic Trials. "There are a lot of people who come to university and there are a lot of people who swim, and it's tempting to just do one. I wanted to show that you could do both at the same time and excel in both. That's what drove me."
Bearne and Champagne are two of the more than 25 Gee-Gees varsity student-athletes who will take part in Spring Convocation, including fellow national champions Stephen Evans (gold medallist in Track and Field, HonBSocSc in Political Science and Minor in Communication), 2018 soccer team members Delaney Ricket-Hall (HonBA in Psychology and Minor in French as a Second Language), Julie-Anne Lamarche (Honours Bachelor of Human Kinetics), Miranda Smith (HonBA in Communication), 2017 women's rugby team members Emily Babcock (BSocSc with Major in Criminology) and Erin McCallan (Honours Bachelor of Human Kinetics), and six of Montana's swimming teammates. This spring, Gee-Gees varsity student-athletes will graduate from the Faculty of Arts, Faculty of Education, Faculty of Engineering, Faculty of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Science, Faculty of Social Science, and the Telfer School of Management. Congratulations to all Gee-Gees graduates!