Olympian and engineering graduate shares the power of mentorship through Skype

Monique Sullivan is a two-time Olympian cyclist and mechanical engineering graduate student. She was an athlete mentor with Classroom Champions, which works in partnership with teachers and local education districts to connect athletes with students in grades K-8, for the school year. Following her participation in Skype in the Classroom events last year, Monique now shares her story and inspirational viewpoint with the Education Blog in this Q&A.

 

Why do you think mentoring students is important?

 

As an athlete, I learned the power of mentorship from a very young age. I remember when I was 13 years old, I was doing a peak power test at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Alberta, and Clara Hughes (one of Canada’s most famous Olympians) walked by. She was a friend of my coach and she stopped in to say hello. My coach mentioned the result of my test to her, and even though I thought it was nothing extraordinary, Clara’s response was: “Wow, that’s awesome!” The positivity and encouragement from someone I had only seen on TV and from a distance was extremely powerful. It only took a moment on Clara’s part, but her belief has stayed with me for a lifetime.

I have tried very hard in my career to find opportunities to share moments like this with the upcoming generation. As a mentor I always emphasize to my mentees that we are all the same. Sometimes, when you see your role models on TV or online, it is easy to think, “Yeah, well it’s easy for them, but I could never do that.” I work hard to bridge that gap and to show that I am not perfect, but I have learned some skills that have helped me succeed, and I want to pass those skills along.

Learning teamwork, perseverance and good communication can be challenging. It forces us out of our comfort zones so that we can become better people. Encouragement from a mentor that building those skills is worth the effort, and that it will bring you closer to your goals, is very powerful.

 

Tell us more about how you are mentoring your students.

 

Skype in the Classroom has helped me to create mentor/mentee relationships that would not otherwise be possible because of geography. This provides a unique opportunity, because not only does everyone get to learn from someone with a different experience, they get to learn from someone with a different cultural background. This diversity of thought helps to expand how both the mentor and mentee view the world and enhances their perspective.

In the big picture, connecting with others from different backgrounds makes us more understanding when it comes to complex issues. Last year, through Skype in the Classroom, I connected with a class in Puerto Rico. When the hurricane hit Puerto Rico last year, my first thought went to the people I got to know who live there.

 

How important are exercise and athletics in students’ lives?

 

As a kid I didn’t really enjoy sports very much until I discovered cycling and fell head over heels for it. Sport became my whole life. Now that I am retired from racing, I ride my bike solely for fun. To this day, nothing makes me smile like riding my bike.

As a graduate student I work most evenings and weekends, but I always take half a day off on the weekend to go mountain biking, even in the middle of winter. It is my favorite part of the week and I treasure it every time. It might sound silly, but when I go through tough times, no matter how bad I am feeling, I always look forward to my mountain bike rides and it helps to keep me going. I strongly encourage you to cultivate a healthy hobby you can rely on to make you smile!

 

Do you have any advice for teachers or parents who might read your story?

 

Sport is important because it makes you feel good, helps you connect with friends and the environment, and builds life-long skills like leadership and teamwork. It’s important to keep trying new things until you find a sport that you like. Exercise and staying fit can and should be fun! Sometimes it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that exercise is hard, or something that you “have” to do. I try to remember that having the opportunity and ability to take good care of your body, and do the things that make it happy, is a gift.

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