Academics & Athletics: One Student-Athlete's Approach to Finding Balance in Life

Time management is a key factor to living a well-balanced life. Many individuals struggle to juggle their work, sleep, nutrition, social life, and exercise. On the surface it would seem that that being a student-athlete could only make this juggling act more difficult. However, studies have shown that “[university] athletes…are more likely to report they are ‘thriving’ when it comes to health, relationships, community engagement and job satisfaction.”

This month we were able to sit down with Mikayla Tinkham, a member of the UBC Track & Field Team, to discuss what her schedule looks like and how she finds balance in what is seemingly a full schedule of competing interests. Now in her 4th year, Mikayla is in the Faculty of Nursing and has been recognized as an Academic All-American by the NAIA and an Academic All-Canadian by USport.

Can you tell us how you got your start in competitive sports?

I’ve been involved with competitive sports for most of my life! I was a competitive gymnast when I was younger and all through high school I played basketball, volleyball, soccer, and track. It wasn’t until grade 11 that I decided to focus solely on pursing track & field; it was just becoming a lot with all those sports and school.

How did you choose which university you wanted to attend?

I actually decided that I was going to be a nurse in Grade 3. My mom is a nurse and I really look up to her. I also really like healthcare and thought nursing would be a really cool profession. However, when I was graduating high school, I also knew I wanted to go to a university where I could compete on a Track & Field and Cross Country team.

I think sometimes when you're younger, you can get really consumed with the sport side of things. I was fortunate that my parents were really good about saying “Yes, track & field is important but, it is also important to think about your life afterwards and what kind of career you want to have.” So I tried to pick a University where I would have the most fun and enjoyment in my life as a student-athlete; a school with a really good athletic program but, also a really good academic program to set myself up for my future after Athletics.

Nursing is a pretty intense program! What does a day in your life look like?

I have two types of days. The days I have class I typically roll out of bed and straight into a Zoom class. Nursing does 3-hour classes and I will have two of them a day, so that’s 6 hours of class with a 1 hour break in between.

Once class is done, I head straight to practice for the next 2 hours to workout with the team and, depending on the day, we might have a strength session after that. Weights typically takes about an hour although, if you’re like me and like to chat with everyone, it usually goes longer. I’ll head home after that, usually arriving around 8:30 pm. At that point I’m just trying to get in some dinner and a bit more studying before heading to bed.

The other kind of day I have right now are Clinical Shifts, where I gain practical nursing experience. Those days start at 7am and I’ll work either an 8 or 12 hour shift. As soon as I’m done, I head home and try to go for my run immediately because I know that if I sit down or delay it that I’m not going to go. Post-run I’m having dinner then sitting down to study.


Those are some long days! How have you balanced being a student-athlete?

At first, I wasn’t great at it. Life could become overwhelming and difficult to balance but, throughout my university career I’ve learned how to prioritize. There are some points in the semester, for instance if you're in a midterms or exam season, where you need to prioritize your schoolwork and maybe decrease your training a bit. Although, I find that I can’t stop training completely because it’s a way for me to de-stress. Conversely, if you're getting ready for Regional or National Championships, you can look at your schedule and take a little bit of a step back with the amount of studying you're doing. I think the main thing is being able to step back from it for a second and look at everything and decide what is important to you.

What would you say are benefits of being a student-athlete?

I’ve gotten to travel to a lot of different places that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve been to Iowa for Regional Championships and nearly every province in Canada for one sport or another. It’s cliché to say but I’ve also developed values such as commitment, dedication, and hard work that are important in all aspects of my life. Also being a part of a university sport team gives you a community of people. Some of my best friends are on the track & field team, or even competitors I’ve met at events. Ultimately being a student-athlete has made my life more fulfilling.

How has COVID affected your life as a student-athlete?

It’s been hard. When it started nobody was used to doing courses online. Also, all of our team practices were cancelled, so we were all training on our own. I didn’t even realize how much I had missed being around my teammates until we came back in September. We’re really lucky that Cross Country is an outdoor sport where we are in the fresh air and have the ability to socially distance.

What advice would you offer to someone wanting to become a university student-athlete?

Going into university is an adaptation process. You may be living away from home for the first time and eating from a meal plan instead of home cooking. Also, your training and studies are probably more intense than they were in high school. Take the pressure off and allow yourself to grow into the system.

Also, universities have a ton of structures in place, and additional academic supports for student-athletes. They are there to help you so, take advantage!

Thank you for speaking with us Mikayla and all the best in your season!

By: Sabrina Nettey & Aneesha Narang