Few are the athletes who can juggle competing with two university varsity sport programs, simultaneously.
Fewer still are those who can excel to the point of reaching the podium in at least one of those two disciplines.
And yet here we are, chatting with Sudbury native Leila Angrand, now 36 years old and living in London, looking back on an athletic career that was highlighted, in part, by a bronze medal performance at U Sport (then CIS) Cross-Country Championships in November of 2007.
The fact that this sporting triumph occurred on the trails was at least somewhat unforeseen by the high-school version of Angrand, entering grade nine at College Notre-Dame as a promising young swimmer with the Laurentian University Swim Club, a passion that she shared with her older brother, Emmanuel.
“I had done really well in swimming, growing up, but I was kind of plateauing, so I transitioned into running,” said Angrand, who remained competitive enough in the pool to be recruited to the Laurentian Aqua Vees swim team. “I just liked running better at that point in my career. I felt like I had so much more potential to grow.”
As a reasonably accomplished swimmer, Angrand was blessed with a cardio base that allowed her to rank among the top local high-school competitors in either track and field or cross-country during her senior years at CND. Still, she viewed her involvement in those sports as far more of a constructive dryland training component, something that she enjoyed doing, and that would benefit her ultimate swimming dreams.
Yet top twelve performances in both of her running disciplines at OFSAA would obviously garner the attention of LU cross-country coach Dick Moss, who welcomed the two-sport athlete to his team, even as she juggled her busy schedule to include some the occasional twice a day practices with coach Phil Parker and the swim team.
“When I would do distance in swimming, that level of endurance didn’t seem to translate in the same way that it did in running,” explained Angrand. “When I was running, I felt like I could run forever. I didn’t feel that way with swimming. I don’t know if that was the lack of arm strength or whatever, but it just felt easier for me to do the distance piece in running and that I wasn’t pushing and pushing.”
Still barely acclimating herself to high level distance run training, Angrand would burst on to the OUA cross-country scene in the fall of 2003, earning a bronze medal at provincial championships and finishing 8th overall at nationals.
“Starting out my career, knowing that I hadn’t trained to my full potential and still being able to achieve what I was able to achieve, that was a really special time for me,” said Angrand. “It was exciting. I couldn’t wait to see what else was to come.”
There was a comfort to running, an ease that transcended both the physical and spiritual in the case of the highly academic young woman, a student-athlete who boasts an undergraduate degree in Sports Psychology to go along with masters in both Occupational Therapy and International Health.
“Any time I approached a race, I kind of loved the fact that I didn’t know what the outcome would be at the end - but I always felt confident,” said Angrand. “That level of confidence was unique, in that it was something that I felt in running, but not in swimming.”
That was equally apparent in her results.
Committing full-time to cross-country and track following her second year at Laurentian, Angrand would go on to claim a second OUA bronze medal as a member of the Voyageurs, twice named to the CIS all-star team, while also adding in a silver medal performance in the 3000m at indoor nationals as well.
Completing her final year of eligibility while tackling the first year of her masters at Western, the well-travelled woman, who is anxiously expecting the birth of her first child this summer with partner Patrick Danielson, would close the book on her university career with a podium placement at nationals, one that would book her ticket to participate in the FISU cross-country championships.
“I remember when I was trying to qualify for the World University Games (FISU), that was probably the race where I left all of my efforts out there,” said Angrand, referencing the 2007 U Sport finals. “After the race, I could hardly walk, I couldn’t even talk. I just really, really wanted to make that team.”
“ I can’t say that the same oomph happened at every race,” she added. “Even then, I loved racing and I would go with what feels comfortable, but not necessarily that extra extra edge of some of these other races.”
Like so many other university runners, the years that followed would create something of a mixed bag, looking forward to a step away from the heavy demands of their previous training regimen, all while never quite losing both the love of the sport and competition.
“My plan was always to continue running, to transition to half marathons, maybe marathons,” she said. “That was always the mindset - but it didn’t quite happen that way.” A five year stint in Vancouver offered perhaps a little more change than Angrand could comfortably integrate, at least not initially.
“Moving to a new province, a new city, not knowing anyone, trying to start my career and wanting to take a break from the really intense training, well, it was really challenging, a bit overwhelming. I was having a hard time balancing it all. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with running anymore.”
But living in a runner’s paradise, a city abounding with running groups, Angrand would find her way to 5km and 10km races, borne largely out of her love of running and a desire to stay fit. “Eventually, I felt that I needed something more than that,” she said. “I transitioned to mountain running. Vancouver is the perfect environment for that - there are mountains everywhere.”
Injuries and life demands, in general, combined with a series of moves, with stops in Edmonton, Pembroke and Sudbury, before settling in London, would account for much of the past decade or so. From a racing standpoint, her day of reckoning had come.
“I decided, given what I had achieved in running, that though I needed to continue doing it, I didn’t need to do it as competitively as I did before,” summarized Angrand.
Through it all, the talented athlete with plenty of family on her mom’s side still living in France had maintained a love of travel. From spending a year of her elementary education in Europe to pursuing a second masters degree in Frankfurt (Germany), Angrand has always tended to draw from sport what she sees in life.
“Sport has taught me a lot of things, too long to talk about,” she laughed. “I think it piqued my interest in international health. I’ve always loved the multi-cultural aspect of sport.” Educational journeys included trips from India to Dubai, from Norway to the United Kingdom, settings that are all conducive to a leisurely run - even if that run stems from very simple love of running.
Nothing more, nothing less.