Sprint Canoer Mark James.

The Paddling Husky

By Tim Damon | fall 2016

Mark James, a sprint canoer who graduated in 2015 with an undergraduate degree in commerce, knows a thing or two about getting his feet wet. After being introduced to canoeing at the age of four, James now has his sights set on competing in the canoe sprint at the 2020 Summer Olympics. 

“Canoeing is an emotional experience that I think every Canadian should feel,” he says. “The act of creating speed by connecting your body with the boat and the water is incredible and serene.”

The 25-year-old Saint Mary's grad is the youngest of three kids who grew up in Dartmouth, near Lake Banook. Canoeing as a family was his parents’ solution to keeping everyone in one place for the summer. James’ passion for the sport escalated in his teenage years when he began to pursue competitive racing. 

Upon completing high school, James decided that he wanted to study commerce and chose Saint Mary’s University. 

“SMU gave me a sense of community and a feeling of pride,” he says. “I often heard that students are just numbers in university, but I never once encountered that at Saint Mary’s. Even in my advanced courses, I was surprised to find how much the faculty cared about other aspects of my life.”

One faculty member who stands out is Granville Ansong who taught Financial Accounting Theory. “He set the bar high and was a tough professor; creating an environment where we really needed to earn the marks he gave us. I learned about hard and diligent work from him and how applying ourselves in this way would make us better professionals.”

Fast forward to present day and James has perfected the art of hard and diligent work. 

As a member of the Canadian National Team since 2005, he trains 4-6 hours a day, six days a week, for the entire year, except 2-3 weeks off at the end of the competitive season. Add to that, his work toward his Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation through CPA Atlantic, and you can see why there are moments when he struggles with the sheer amount of effort and determination required to achieve his goals.

“I remind myself that no matter what anyone is working toward, we all have days that seem overwhelming.” This positive mindset, in addition to the support of his family and his girlfriend—also a sprint canoer—help him persevere. 

Watching the Canadian athletes at the Rio Olympics this past summer gave him a taste of what is to come. “I am learning that it must be difficult to be on that stage with the whole world watching, hoping to have all your passion and hard work culminate in one performance.” He aspires to be the same kind of role model that the 2016 athletes have been for him, and to follow in their footsteps at the next Olympic Games. 

James’ biggest takeaway from attending Saint Mary’s was a realization that he wants to use his skills and experiences to help those around him. He’s done this by joining the board of directors at his canoe club and in the future, hopes to take on the treasurer role and put his degree to work for the club. He also hopes to give back to his sporting community through part-time work as a coach or by utilizing his accounting skills to assist non-profit sports organizations with their finances. 

“My time at SMU gave me the opportunity to hone my goal setting and time management skills and apply this work ethic to my sport,” he says. “SMU also helped me to become a better-rounded athlete with unique interests and priorities that help
me keep perspective while pursuing my Olympic dream.”

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