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Melissa Bishop talks dedication and success at Algonquin College

By Ryan Paulsen, The Daily Observer

Feeling a bit of nerves as you embark on a post-secondary career is perfectly normal, but it's not every day that a world-class athlete comes to your school to give you a pep talk. That's exactly what happened on Tuesday at Algonquin College Waterfront Campus in Pembroke, when Canadian Olympian (not to mention World Championships silver medalist and PanAm Games gold medalist) Melissa Bishop dropped by to share stories of her personal and professional journey to the upper echelon of international athletic competition.

Bishop arrives on the heels of the best season of her track career, having won the gold medal at the PanAm Games in Toronto before going on to break the Canadian women's 800-metre record and then winning silver at the World Championships in Beijing, China.

“Nothing's really sunk in yet, though,” she told local media before the event, before gesturing toward the larger than life photo of herself celebrating her PanAm win. “I look up at that picture, and it doesn't seem real just yet. It's really exciting, but I'm just trying to keep my cool, stay calm and leading in to next year, to keep my head on straight.”

Now that the competitive season is over, Bishop is happy to be back on home soil and enjoying her celebrity status.

“It's nice to give back to the community. This is the Ottawa Valley, and we're just a close-knit type of community that I feel proud to come back and honoured to come back and share my experience with home.”

On the topic of her inspirational status, Bishop feels that it's something of a turnaround, but not an unwelcome one.

“It's an honour to be an inspiration to people, no matter the age or gender. It's pretty cool to inspire people to get out and exercise or get out and do something. I had inspirations growing up, too, so it's pretty cool to be one of those people now.

“When I was growing up, [my inspiration was] Diane Cummings. She held the Canadian record up until I broke it. She was a huge inspiration for me. I would sit on my couch in the summer time when I was a little girl and watch her racing at the Olympics and be like 'I want to do that. I want to be her!' And now I am, so it's pretty cool to have the roles reversed. She's a great friend of mine. She retired just as I was getting started, so she's been a huge supporter of mine, too.”

The event was organized and moderated by the college's manager of community and student affairs, Jamie Bramburger.

“It's very special,” says Bramburger of Bishop's visit. “Melissa Bishop, a few years ago, was a young woman who left home here in the Ottawa Valley and went to the University of Windsor, and we have a large student population that is from out of town. She's had that experience, so her message today about what it was like to go to post-secondary, and also the incredible talent she has in track and field as an amateur athlete and Canadian Olympian, is very inspiring. It's a story about determination, about success, about perseverance. That's an important message to send to our students.”

After a series of questions from Bramburger, Bishop fielded a smattering of questions from the assembled crowd of students and staff, ranging from her opinions on the mental health benefits of exercises (“I can be in the worst mood possible, and after a run it's a complete 180”) to advice for aspiring Olympians (“It's not going to happen overnight. It's not instantaneous,” she said, referencing the 12 years she's spent training to reach her current position and underscoring the need to work for your goals).

A special moment of applause and recognition came just before the question and answer session, when Bramburger offered a public thanks to Bishop's mom, Alison, who was seated in the crowd, for all the rides to training and meets over the years, giving the Ottawa Valley their very own international track star.

“I get weepy all over again,” said Alison of her daughter's many appearances and the oft-replayed gold medal PanAm run. “She just amazes us. She's very driven, very passionate about her sport and her future, and I find that very refreshing.”

Bishop will be enjoying time with her family for the next few months, before starting training again in earnest in the winter, starting down the long road to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

While international competition rules require her to qualify again for the games despite her recent success, changes this year allow her to use her record-breaking time of 1:57.52 to qualify time-wise, leaving only the requirement for her to finish in the top three spots to punch her ticket to Rio.

ryan.paulsen@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @PRyanPaulsen