Meredith Kusnierczyk was already a high level multi-sport talent at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School when she enrolled into the Biomedical Biology program at Laurentian University a few years back.
A city champion in cross-country, nordic ski and track and field, it was in the winter sport where her excellence carried most on the provincial scene, capturing gold at the OFSAA cross-country ski championships on a pair of occasions.
Still, it was on ground uncovered by the winter white stuff where the now 20 year-old long-time member of the Sudbury Lady Wolves would target her involvement as she moved on to the post-secondary ranks.
At least that was the plan, initially.
“I came to university only planning to do cross-country running and then track in the winter,” said Kusnierczyk. “Because of Covid, we didn’t really have much of a track season or cross-country, but we were able to train outside with our team that first year.”
With that in mind, she would approach then L.U. cross-country/track coach Dick Moss with the idea of maintaining her fitness level through the winter months with a regimen of nordic ski workouts, the traditional indoor track training grounds of the Laurentian fieldhouse unavailable due to physical distancing requirements and the like.
“I just wanted to be outside and stay fit – and it just kind of went from there,” she said.
Before long, the possibility of a dual sport varsity athlete arose (triple sport if one counts cross-country running and track & field as two separate teams – though they often encompass a large majority of the same participants), with Kusnierczyk committing to ski racing with the L.U. colours two years ago.
For the most part, this is not breaking a whole lot of new ground for the well-spoken young woman who finished behind only teammates Kristen Mrozewski and Angela Mozzon at the Ramsey Tour 5km this past Sunday morning.
“It is pretty similar to what we did in high school with (Lo-Ellen XC and nordic coach) Colin Ward,” noted Kusnierczyk. “It was a given there that we were going from running to skiing, so that transition is not new to me.”
“But while I am racing cross-country and the university level throughout the fall season, my nordic ski teammates are doing a lot of strength training in the weight room. I definitely miss out on that component when I get to cross-country skiing – but my fitness levels are great.”
Though she has no illusions of an OUA podium placement in either discipline as she ponders the next step in her academic journey, looking at opportunities with a master’s degree in the health care field, Kusnierczyk is also confident that her attachment to a variety of athletic pursuits is not about to fall by the wayside as the years pile on.
“For me, it’s really the community aspect that you get with these sports,” she said. “It keeps you involved, with all of your friends participating in these sports. During Covid, we would be shooting a text to each other: let’s go outdoors for a run. It was one of the few things we could do.”
“That’s what keeps me involved,” Kusnierczyk added. “Instead of these being just university sports, they’re lifelong sports for me.”
Not that this takes away in the least the drive she possesses to maximize her potential as she kick-started the 2023-2024 school year in fine fashion. “Darren (current L.U. coach Darren Jermyn) and I spoke after track season last spring,” she said. “I want to keep up with those goals, whether that be mileage targets at the end of the summer or improving upon the races that I had last year.”
“I’m definitely getting off to a good start because I definitely had a better time (today) than I did last year,” Kusnierczyk acknowledged on Sunday, nearing that key sub-20 minute plateau with a clocking of 20:18 on the trails to Loach’s Road.
“If I can keep that up, I would be happy with that.”
While overall fitness clearly helps her results, so too does her ability to gradually incorporate the knowledge of how exactly she wants to tackle each and every race. “I feel like I have definitely gotten a better grasp of race strategy,” she said. “In high-school, I guess we did have the team aspect, but you don’t really know how to strategize for that.”
“Now, I know where I should be and in the back of my mind, I know that each person I pass is an extra point for my team. Once you get to the OUAs, you are really racing for your team.”
That’s just part of the community aspect of sport that Meredith Kusnierczyk loves – all year-round.