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School Pride Carries Duo-Sport Athlete to Success

On September 4th 2016, Aksel Pollari’s car was packed, ready to make the trek to begin the next four years of his life at a bigger post-secondary institution in Southern Ontario. Feeling apprehensive about studying in lecture halls larger than his hometown of Echo Bay, Ontario, he decided at the last minute to stay closer to home, studying at the less-intimidating Algoma U.

“Something felt right about Algoma University. I had friends who went to Algoma U, I knew the coaching staff. It seemed more welcoming. Plus, I could still live at home, be with my family, and do all of the outdoor things I do every weekend. I wouldn’t have to give up my lifestyle for school.”

On the first day of class, Pollari walked into the Registrar’s Office in Shingwauk Hall and enrolled.

“The longer I’m here, the happier I am,” he says. “I am really glad I made the decision to go to Algoma U.”

Since making the life-changing decision, Pollari has committed to the Algoma Thunderbirds, being one of the only duo-sport student-athletes to compete in the 2016-17 season. In his rookie year, Pollari competed on the cross-country running and wrestling teams and had favourable results. With running, he had the second highest finish at the OUA Championships for the men. In wrestling, Pollari finished in fourth place at the OUA Championships, just narrowly missing out on the podium and a chance to compete at the U Sports Championships. Such performances earned him the accolades of Rookie of the Year, Coaches’ Award, highest Academic Achievement Award, as well as the coveted Male Student-Athlete of the Year.

These achievements wouldn’t have been possible had he gone to a larger university. “There are so many opportunities here. Just in sports, the fact that I got to play on two teams in my first year is quite a big deal.  Here, my coaches have really ensured that I am happy and get to do whatever I want. They really took a chance on me.”

In fact, Pollari had not competed in the sport of wrestling since his freshman year of high school. “I did really well in wrestling in Grade 9 but didn’t compete after that. I was more focused on running and track and field. So the fact that [Head Coach] Trevor Manchester let me wrestle on the team with almost no experience and then developed my athleticism in only a few months to a fourth-place finish is quite incredible. No other school would have ever let me wrestle competitively or even practice with the team. They wouldn’t have even considered me. I owe everything to Trevor for giving me this opportunity and really pushing me to be the best that I can be.”

Pollari’s enthusiasm for Algoma U runs deeper than athletics. In class, Pollari is enjoying his coursework, crediting his professors for cultivating a keen interest in science. So much so that he recently declared his degree in the Honours Bachelor of Science in Biology program.  “I’m really enjoying my biology classes, but I also really like the other subjects I have been able to take. In my first year, I was exposed to political science, psychology, forensic science, law, and more. It’s been really great. And in every class, the professors have been extremely helpful and really supportive of me as an athlete. It’s great being in such small classes where I can talk to my professors.”

Plus, studying on a smaller campus has its perks too, he says. “Some of my friends at bigger universities have to walk 30 minutes to their next class. That’s not the case here. It’s only a two-minute walk from my wrestling practice to class, or from the gym to the biology lab. It’s really convenient.” On Thursdays, Pollari notes the convenience, when he juggles nine hours of classes and three hours of practices from 7:30am until 11:00pm at night. “I’m pretty sure I couldn’t make this schedule work at a bigger campus,” he adds laughing.

Over the summer, Pollari will continue training with both teams as well as running his own business, Yardworx. Come the 2017-18 season, he is hoping to improve upon last season’s finish with an OUA Championship medal in wrestling.

Written by: Meaghan Kent

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