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Snow fell into third-year King’s student Stuart Harden’s life much later than most Canadians. He was 11 years old when his family moved to Calgary from the United Arab Emirates. The young boy immediately adapted from the desert to the Rocky Mountains.
“I knew I wanted to do something on snow,” said Harden, “because of how new and exciting it was!” He saw athletes competing in biathlon shooting a rifle. He had found his sport.
Harden started competing when he was 13. Within a year, he was landing on the podium regularly. He was developing as a marksman. By the age of 17, after a growth spurt, he was winning with the youth national team and competing in the Youth Olympic Games. “I got to explore the world and meet a whole bunch of new and exciting people, [and] get my butt kicked by Europeans.”
Trouble arrived when Harden was 19. He was struggling to get healthy and recover from injuries. It continued through 20 and lingered at 21. The results on the course weren’t what they used to be. Something was wrong. After a conversation with his mother, Harden looked up symptoms for Type 1 diabetes. He had a lot of them. He went into hospital and sure enough was diagnosed.
“I think being able to communicate knowledge, whether it is coaching or in school, is a crucial skill.”
“It was a relief to be honest,” Harden said. He wasn’t having fun competing through the sickness and injuries. He certainly wasn’t having fun training in those conditions. The young athlete and his partner, Olivia, who is also a competitive skier, had a difficult conversation.
“I realized I would be happier and healthier not racing and just, kind of, transitioning into a different role in the sport.”
The veteran skier decided to become a freshman academic. “I was mostly excited just to get a chance to go to school.”
Harden is now pursuing of a combined honours degree in Contemporary Studies and Canadian studies. When he arrived at King’s, he knew he wanted to keep skiing and he thought maybe he could help young people in the process. He reached out to Halifax Nordic and soon became a coach. He has been working with young skiers every winter since.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have some really stellar coaches,” Harden said. “Having benefitted from mentors and role models [who] I could look up to… I know that somebody has got to do the same for kids who are 10 or 11 or 12 years old now. If I can do anything half as good as the coaches I’ve had, I’ll be happy.”
Harden takes a similar approach to teaching as he does to learning. If he is able to get teenagers at the ski hill to absorb instructions and put them into practice successfully, he knows he has done his job. Similarly, he knows if he can give a simple explanation of a concept introduced in class to a teenager than he has probably learned that subject. “I think being able to communicate knowledge, whether it is coaching or in school, is a crucial skill.”