VANCOUVER — There were times when Glynis Sim didn’t want to look over her shoulder for fear that she may well have left her competitive running career too far behind in the rearview mirror.
After all, when you cut bait and walk away from a promising career in the manner she was forced to almost four years ago following a medical retirement after just over one full season in the NCAA with the Pac 12’s Arizona State Sun Devils, such acts of personal reconnaissance are too often filled with painful memories.
Yet come Saturday morning, on the trails of Saskatoon’s Victoria Park, Sim will don her UBC Thunderbirds’ singlet and make that comeback complete when she competes as a key member of the blue-and-gold at the Canada West Cross-Country Championships.
“It’s been great, and honestly, just a lot of fun,” Sim told Varsity Letters on Monday morning, a succinct and simple sentiment which sums up the full-circle journey she has taken as a student-athlete since capping a star-studded high school career as both a decorated harrier and a middle-distance medallist.
In fact by the time she graduated from Salmon Arm Secondary in 2016, the Jewels’ sensation had not only won the steeplechase at the 2015 B.C. High School Championships, she had also finished sixth in the world later that same summer at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia.
A year previous, as a 10th grader, she had run to gold in the B.C. High School Cross-Country championships.
Put all of that together, within specialty races which reward ultimate grit and tenacity, Sim was rightfully regarded as one of the best middle-distance runners in her age group in Canada.
Yet not three semesters into her collegiate journey in the desert with the Sun Devils, it all seemed to unravel.
“I went down there with a stress fracture and then continued to have these re-occurring stress injuries for about a year-and-a-half,” relates Sim, who fittingly had enrolled as a Kinesiology major.
“It was quite difficult and in the end, it wasn’t my decision to stop,” she adds. “The medical team there, they had found five different bone-stress injuries, so they had to medically disqualify me.”
The news was crushing.
Sim, who re-defines her injuries more as stress reactions than stress fractures, recounts the unwavering level of frustration at their frequency, their pain and the fact that in the midst of a solid run of training, she was simply at their mercy, often times been shelved for eight weeks at a time.
The good news: Arizona State honoured the terms of its athletic scholarship to Sim, and thus she graduated with her Kinesiology degree on time in 2020.
And while still in Arizona, she’d even begun to gain work experience in nursing, her new chosen field of interest, and one which she began to study on a full-time basis this past September at UBC.
For Laurier Primeau, who oversees the entire UBC Thunderbirds track and field, and cross country programs, Sim’s return to running, coming out of the pandemic and amidst the incredible demands of the nursing program, is the perfect example of someone returning to their sport for the absolute pure love of everything it represents.
“Glynis is better to reflect on whether she had lost her love of running or feels that it was taken away from her, but there is certainly some renewal and some re-discovery here,” said Primeau, who had earlier attempted to recruit Sim to Point Grey campus as she came out of high school.
“But I think there is something to be said for being part of a team again in what is traditionally thought of as a lonely, individual sport,” added Primeau of Sim who will line up in Saturday’s conference championship race alongside new teammates like Mackenzie Campbell and Maple Ridge native Jamie Hennessey, all of whom train under new cross-country coach Steve Weiler.
Nothing could be closer to the truth for Sim.
While still in Arizona, she had begun workouts on-line with mentor John Machuga, the same coach who had worked with her during her high school years.
By August, with the start of her two-year nursing school studies set to begin, she was ready to try again, but this time with an holistic focus that only adversity can hone.
“In the past, I also found that school was kind of secondary to athletics, at least for the first couple of years,” she said about the start of her collegiate experience down south.
“I had to put a lot of thought into it, because I didn’t want any of that disappointment, or having things not go the way you want,” Sim explained. “I am fairly career-oriented so I was concerned about that, But after one good talk with the (UBC) coaches, we have all been on the same page.”
And so despite her lack of anything resembling a more traditional distance runner’s CV of annual mileage logs, she has hit the ground running, re-discovering at her core, the reasons she started running in the first place.
As a vital part of the UBC women’s team’s first-place finishes in both the Victoria and Trinity Western invites, Sim has helped the ‘Birds achieve the No. 6 ranking in the most recent U Sports national poll, one which also shows UBC as the second-ranked team within the Canada West, trailing only the host Saskatchewan Huskies.
The UBC men, also set to run in their conference championship race Saturday in Saskatoon, are ranked fourth nationally and tops in the Canada West.
Led by the likes of Thomas Nobbs, Tyler Dozzi, Spencer Hardy, Joshua Kozelj and Dylan Ulrich, the Thunderbirds’ men were also first at both Victoria and Langley.
For Glynis Sim, it’s easy to say that on her first go-round as a collegiate runner, her body didn’t want to co-operate.
This time around, she’s not only achieving excellence on the trails, and later this spring she hopes, on the track, too, she is making it all work within the schematic of the life she wants to lead.
“I think it allows for some balance, that is the main thing,” she said of settling into her new station as a much more seasoned student-athlete. “It’s definitely a social thing for me, which I really enjoy. And like I said, it’s a lot of fun to be training with all of these athletes and these really cool coaches.”
To re-discover your love for the simple act of running, and in doing so, appreciating the moments along the journey even more?
Glynis Sim may have thought she’d lost her university running career, but she not only found it, she’s realizing it’s offering a finish line of possibilities she hadn’t ever considered.
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