Campus Life

Juggling the role of a student-athlete

When Mike O'Brien says he's planning on going to medical school next year, you can all but consider it a certainty – that's just the way he gets things done.
A soon-to-be-graduating (he finishes school in December and will convocate in the spring) senior fullback from the Pronghorns men's soccer program, O'Brien has made a habit of setting goals and steadfastly achieving them.

A walk-on candidate for the soccer team in his first year, he introduced himself to head coach Randy Bardock over e-mail and was only assured he'd get an opportunity to try out when he arrived. Five years later, O'Brien finished his career as a team captain, a second-team conference all-star and the highest scoring fullback in program history.

His academic career at the University followed a similar path. For two years he put up good, if not outstanding, grades while combining soccer and studies. Since then, with an eye on a future in medicine, O'Brien dedicated himself to improving his academic standing. The result was consecutive selections as an Academic All-Canadian (a third is in the offing) and the Canada West Student-Athlete of the Year nod for 2009.

"It is a point of pride that I am able to be an Academic All-Canadian because there are very few athletes in general who get that honour," says O'Brien, a 22-year-old Calgary, Alta. native.

"Maturity has been the biggest change. Moving away from home for the first time, there are so many distractions and I definitely took advantage of those in my first two years. I had a B and B+ average, which isn't horrible, but it's not good enough to get into medical school.

"I realized I needed to change my academic habits. It wasn't really until my third year when I started to improve. Maturity and learning from my past mistakes were the biggest differences."

A biological science major, O'Brien has already applied to attend medical school upon graduation next spring. This past summer, he immersed himself in the medical field, spending two months as a volunteer in Arusha, Tanzania, with the Volunteer Abroad organization.

"It was an amazing experience," says O'Brien. "I was able to help in an HIV/AIDS clinic, work in a lab and maternal health clinic and observe major surgical procedures first hand."

He says the work he did only steeled his resolve to become a doctor.
"It reaffirmed my desire to go to medical school but more than that, it made me want to do something more, perhaps as a doctor, to further help people in developing countries," he says.

"Being in Tanzania really gave me an appreciation of the opportunities I have here in Canada, like being able to go to university, and I really want to make the most of that."

At home, O'Brien is similarly charitable, working part-time as a community worker for people with disabilities as part of the Southern Alberta Community Living Association.

"I've worked there since the summer of 2007," says O'Brien. "It's something that has given me a great appreciation for what I have and has further encouraged me to pursue medicine as a career."

A true student-athlete in every sense, O'Brien has made the most of his U of L experience. He finds it hard to believe five years have passed since he walked on to the old soccer field a virtual unknown.

"I was pretty surprised initially when I even made the team and from there, I just worked on improving, gradually earned more playing time and then a starting spot," O'Brien says. "It amazes me that five years are over now and I'm getting ready to leave."

He'll go as a mature, confident graduate that is sure to represent the best the U of L has to offer.