June 14, 2021

Class of 2021: COVID cancellation was a game-changer — in a surprising and gratifying direction

Passionate about exercise physiology, Eric Donaldson reshaped his degree when his original intention was thwarted
Eric Donaldson

In the winter of 2018, as he prepared to graduate from the University of Waterloo with a Bachelor of Science degree in kinesiology, Eric Donaldson learned something that crystalized his next move: UCalgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology had just been ranked the No. 1 sport science school in North America (a position it has held for three consecutive years).

With aspirations to work in occupational exercise physiology to enhance training strategies for firefighters and police officers, Donaldson was impressed, and attracted to UCalgary’s course-based Master of Kinesiology, which offers a practicum component.

“I’d heard great things about the program, which seemed like just the right balance for me,” says Donaldson. “I’m a strong believer in getting practical experience while attending classes.”

... and then COVID hit

Indeed, five months into his course work and preparing to embark on his practicum, Donaldson was immersed in pursuing his goal as planned — until COVID-19 hit. Overnight, he and his classmates lost their opportunity to take on professional practicums, all of which were cancelled in the face of the pandemic. “We were suddenly severely limited in what we could choose for practical experience,” he says. 

Disappointed but undeterred, Donaldson didn’t hesitate to embrace a chance to work on a project at the Canadian Sport Institute (CSI). Interested in exploring the reliability of a testing device that quantifies peak rate of force development in the lower body, the institute paired Donaldson with elite athletes, one at a time, each over a three-day period. “The athletes were using an isometric leg press to evaluate development using one leg at a time,” says Donaldson, who admits that “working with athletes was not [his] plan.”

As sometimes happens when a door closes, the window that opened was, ultimately, a surprising game-changer for Donaldson. “The experience was so rewarding and provided me with very academic-based research skills,” he says. While he’ll still aim to work with first responders, he’s now contemplating serving professional sport organizations as well. “The physical demands are so similar, and it’s a unique challenge to tailor programming to the clientele.”

Research horizons expand

As well, Donaldson was so taken with the research that he’s starting on a Master of Science in Kinesiology, with the intention of investigating training stress via looking at the body’s responses to accumulating bouts of fatigue. Likewise, CSI was so impressed by Donaldson that they offered him an internship with their strength and conditioning team. “In addition to focusing on my MSc this summer, I’ll now be working with their coaches and elite athletes full-time and continuing to develop my practical skills with some of Canada’s leaders in strength and conditioning.”

It’s an unexpected new path triggered by the faculty’s nimble response to a challenge. “They did a good job adapting, given the scenario,” says Donaldson. So, indeed, did this past and future student.

Congratulations, Class of 2021!

Find inspiration in all of our remarkable student stories