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Varsity runners paying thousands to represent Canada internationally

FISU-bound athletes expected to pay their own way to Switzerland to race

OUA Cross-Country Championships
OUA Cross-Country Championships
Photo: Tim Huebsch.

On April 7, some of Canada’s top varsity cross-country runners will be lining up against their fastest counterparts from all over the world in St. Gallen, Switzerland at the FISU World University Cross-Country Championships.

Six men and six women from Canadian universities were selected, based on their showing at the 2017 U Sports (Canadian university) Cross-Country Championships, to don the red and white. Representing Canada comes at a steep price.

No funding is reserved for the team members who, in most cases, are students with limited funds. The expensive trip means runners have to fundraise for themselves. Mark Patton, a U Sports Cross-Country Second-Team [placings 8-14] All-Canadian and member of the U Sports cross-country and indoor track and field gold medallists Guelph Gryphons started a GoFundMe page. On his campaign page, he states: “Unfortunately, this team has no funding and the cost of the trip lies solely on the athlete. Apparently it also isn’t cheap to fly to Switzerland, stay there for a week and fly back as the trip cost roughly $3,000.”

Marauder Bayfront Open
Photo: Tim Huebsch.

Likewise, Andrew Nebel, a captain of the Windsor Lancers and also a U Sports Cross-Country Second Team All-Canadian was a late addition to the team, and has been scrambling to make ends meet. “I cannot speak for everyone,” states Nebel, “but my cost (for the trip) was $2,660.” He, too, has created a GoFundMe page. Luckily, he was also able to receive financial assistance from the University of Windsor. “The athletic department here is helping me out, and that is huge,” he says. “I am very grateful for that.”

U Sports’ lack of support for their representatives raises eyebrows. For example, the team coaches’ trips are funded. Stefanie Smith, also from the Windsor Lancers, sees many layers to this funding problem. “It’s frustrating,” says Smith. “I may never be able to (race with Team Canada at the varsity level) again, but seeing the price tag of the trip has definitely made me think twice about going to Switzerland. A lot of athletes are deserving of these trips and I’d hate to hear that some had to turn it down. How can we grow the sport like this?”

(Editor’s note: Sergio Raez-Villanueva also has a GoFundMe page set up for FISU, upping the tally to at least three team members. His goal is $2,000. “Unfortunately, the trip is not funded and it is difficult (especially as a university student) to manage to pay for these kinds of expenses, including the flight and accommodations,” he says. “I’m not going on a leisure trip; I’m going there to race my hardest and represent our country with pride and with a desire to push our limits.”)

Oddly enough – but perhaps due to last-minute changes to the team roster – U Sports has yet to even present the Canadian roster to the public. Below are the men and women’s rosters for the 2018 FISU Cross-Country Championships. Athletes are listed along with their university and their placing at the 2017 U Sports championship.

Men’s team

U Sports Cross-Country
Photo: Matt Cecill.

Ben Carson (Western) – 3rd
Russell Pennock (Calgary) – 4th
Sergio Raez-Villanueva (McMaster) – 8th
Mark Patton (Guelph) – 9th
Angus Rawling (St. FX) – 10th
Andrew Nebel (Windsor) – 13th

Women

U Sports Cross-Country
Photo: Matt Cecill.

Claire Sumner (Queen’s) – 2nd
Kristina Popadich (Western) – 5th
Lucia Stafford (Toronto) – 6th
Aurélie Dubé-Lavoie (Laval) – 7th
Stefanie Smith (Windsor) – 9th
Danielle Jossinet (Guelph) – 10th

Coaches:

Brant Stachel – Queen’s
Jill Mallon – Toronto

*Note: Top-six men and women finishers at the U Sports championship get selected to the team. If an athlete turns down the offer, is over 25 years of age, and/or is not a Canadian citizen, the offer is extended to the next best finisher.