Throughout her time at Lasalle Secondary School, Nancy Schuster would dominate both the cross-country trails and the track in her age group.
Yet through it all, basketball remained her love, her passion.
“I had always run and I was always naturally good at it, but running really stressed me out,” said the 48 year old mother of a six year old son. “I was so nervous before every race.”
That image, however, is a difficult one to reconcile with the young adult, then a graduate of both Brock University and Cambrian College, though terribly uncertain of her path in life, throwing herself carefree into the world of international teaching.
That image of the shy, timid but very talented runner is perhaps even more difficult to reconcile with the now free-spirited woman who can recount with great laughter the six-month stretch in which she and husband (and fellow Sudburian) Lucas MacEwan spent living out of a van in Mexico.
“My husband surfed, some days, for maybe eight or ten hours,” she said. “Sometimes, I would run on the beach. We were just chilling.”
It’s an interesting and highly entertaining dichotomy as one skims over the chapters of Schuster’s life, to date, the third of four children in the family and skilled enough athletically to comfortably compete with both the varsity basketball and cross-country teams in her time as a Badger.
Little wonder that Lasalle Secondary greeted the graduate of Churchill Public School with open arms, even as she meandered the sporting possibilities that would lie before her.
“When I was young, I wanted to do whatever I could - any sport at all,” said Schuster. “I played ringette, with the city team - we were provincial champions when I was 11. I was a ringette goalie and I was often running between ringette and basketball. In grade seven or eight, my teacher told me I had to make a decision.”
It wasn’t a particularly tough decision for the local who would earn a degree in Psychology, would later gather her teaching accreditation in Australia, and still works part-time in the field these days as she enjoys life in Abbotsford, B.C.
“Basketball was my love,” she said. “I went to running practices, but I never skipped basketball practices.” Given that maintaining a strong cardio base is at the core of so many sports, including basketball, trying to remain competitive in both was not something that was frowned upon, even by those who live, eat and breathe life on the hardcourt at the LancerDome.
“I don’t remember how I would have been able to do both of the practices, but I don’t remember it being that challenging,” Schuster acknowledged. Lasalle coaches were no dummies. Given the athletic potential before them, best to allow her to try and balance both pursuits, as best as she could.
“Reflecting back, running is likely more what I was built for, what I was made for,” she conceded. “But we had a very good basketball team too. When my running team came third at OFSAA, my basketball team came third at OFSAA, the very same year. Maybe I would have been able to do more with running.”
But her heart never quite gravitated to it, at least not in a manner that would equal her desire to simply head out and play hoops. For as much as she enjoyed individual success - if memory serves her well, Schuster recalled a 6th place finish at OFSAA cross-country in one of her senior years - there remained the aura around the south.
“I remember that we always felt a little intimidated,” she said. “It was always the fact that we were against southern Ontario, and there was just something about that, even in basketball. I remember being at (OFSAA) track one year and just being in awe of some of the girls that were there.”
“We need to train harder, I thought to myself.”
Recruited at a university level in both disciplines (running and basketball), with some interest shown on both sides of the border, Schuster would commit to Brock basketball. A small handful of years later, it was time to tackle a completely different challenge, one which had little to do with sport.
“I was a little burnt out on basketball by the time I left there,” she said. “I wanted to travel and kind of thought I wanted to be a teacher, but I wasn’t sure. And as long as you have a degree, you can teach overseas.”
But what of the somewhat timid soft-spoken gal we had encountered in sporting endeavours?
It was time to let loose the more free spirited lass that lie within, apparently.
“I did a phone interview and felt that I had a really good vibe about this,” recalled Schuster, discussing the final steps before she would leave for Japan, completely on her own. “I feel like I have good instincts with that sort of thing.”
It certainly has worked out that way. Schuster would make the most of every stop along the way.
“They were all great, but for different reasons,” she said. “Japan was my first overseas teaching experience and a lot of my students were more like university students. I had so much fun there. They really wanted to learn to speak english, so we would hang out on the weekends, because I really wasn’t all that much older than they were.”
“Taiwan was great - I played a lot of tennis and rode around on my scooter,” Schuster continued with her ever-present smile. “In Korea, I was teaching on their most beautiful island (Jeju Island, their honeymoon island, just off the mainland.”
Schuster and MacEwan had dated, for three years or so, at the tail-end of high school and the beginning of their university studies. While life would split them a world apart - somewhere along the way, Schuster also spent a year in Serbia, more or less hanging out with her grandmother - they always stayed in touch.
Eventually, together, they would call British Columbia home, settling in for a bit even before the pandemic took away the choice.
“Now, I’m a trail runner,” she said. “I’ll run the odd time out of the roads, but any chance I get to head out on the trails, I will. I loved the way that we did it, that we travelled first and started other things later. I’m still hoping to travel, when we retire.”
To this day, Nancy Schuster follows the beat of her own drummer, be it in sport or in life.