Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
EDMONTON – Ashley Hinther has been at this post-secondary education thing for a while now.
She earned a Science degree in four years, studied three years to get a Master's in Biochemistry, spent another three finishing medical school, and is now two years into a residency with three more to go.
"Everyone's like, 'pace yourself, residency's a marathon. I'm like, 'been there.,'" laughs Hinther.
If anyone could attest to such, it's Hinther, who had a decorated career as a Canada West distance runner, first for the University of Saskatchewan and then as a graduate student at the University of Victoria.
Now a decade removed from her last CW competition, Hinther continues to study at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine, where she's approaching the halfway point of a five-year residency program.
"If I actually sat back and went, 'ok, when will I be a full staff surgeon?' that could be a little daunting, but I try not to focus on that a lot," says Hinther. "I focus on the moment and what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis. I take the little goals as they come to me and try not to get too bogged down by the finish line.
"Same thing with running," she continues. "Each practice is important, and you can't go from a personal best and (beat) it by 30 seconds. It's always a work in progress and it's the same thing with residency – you just take it year by year and try not to get discouraged with how far you have to go."
The Saskatoon native first enrolled at the U of S in 2002 and began working towards a Bachelor's in Biochemistry while joining the university's cross-country team to continue a sport that she had been involved with since age 10.
"Once I got into the university scene, where you're around a lot of like-minded people and they're all working hard towards a goal, being in that environment really motivated me," says Hinther. "That's when I just really decided to take it a lot more seriously than I had in the past and just really dedicated a lot of time to it."
After making gradual strides over her first three years, Hinther had her patience pay off during the 2005-06 season, when she placed sixth in the 5K at the CIS Cross Country Championships in Halifax and won bronze in the 3,000 metre at the 2006 CIS Track and Field Championships, which was hosted by the U of S.
"I became a lot more consistent with training, and started to see it in practice," Hinther says. "Track doesn't lie; if you're running repeats around the track, you'll know how fast you're running, you know if you're worse or better than you were the day before. I could see that translate from how my practice was going to the times I was running in races."
Hinther graduated from the U of S in 2006 and decided to pursue her Master's at UVic, where proximity to the Athletics Canada West Hub in Victoria would allow her to pursue racing at an elite level once her student-athlete eligibility was up. She ended her time as a student-athlete with a bang, winning gold in the 1,500 metre and bronze in the 3,000 metre at the 2008 CIS Track and Field Championship in Montreal.
After earning her Master's in 2010, Hinther continued to race, at meets in Canada and the United States for three more years. Finally, in 2013, she decided to retire from competition, and entered the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine. She completed a Doctor of Medicine in three years and began an otolaryngology-head and neck surgery residency in the summer of 2016.
"I loved competing but I'm obviously very happy with where I am now," says Hinther, who still runs for fun. "I miss it, but I don't have regrets."
Hinther has just under three years remaining in residency, but even after that, the finish line may still be in the distance: She's leaning towards doing a fellowship, which should come as no surprise -- after all, she never was one for the sprints.
So when Hinther advises student-athletes to "live in the moment and enjoy where you are right now", the runner-turned-doctor means what she says.
"It's such a privilege to compete in athletics, and it's going to be some of the best times of your life," she adds. "Don't get stressed out about a bad practice or a bad race here and there, just live in the moment and know that if you continue to work hard and show up to practice, everything will work out.
"If you want to do athletics, do it, and life will take care of itself."
The #CanadaWestCreated series features stories of former Canada West student-athletes who have moved on to excel in their careers and communities. The individuals profiled in the #CanadaWestCreated series exemplify how student-athletes build the skills and connections needed to succeed following the completion of their time in university.