#OurAthletes: Meet Nicole Sifuentes

CBC News is pairing up with Canada's athletes competing in July's Pan Am and Parapan Am Games to give a behind-the-scenes look at the competition, training and day-to-day life of the athletes. We introduce you to Nicole Sifuentes, a 1,500m runner from Winnipeg.

Pan Am athlete originally from Winnipeg explains how she became interested in running

Nicole Sifuentes competes in the 2012 Olympics in London, England. (Claus Andersen)

Over the coming weeks, athletes from across Canada will be gearing up to compete in July's Pan Am and Parapan Am Games in Toronto.

Using the #OurAthletes hashtag, CBC News is pairing up with competitors to give Canadians a behind-the-scenes look at the competition, training and day-to-day life of the athletes, both leading up to and during the games.

Share Nicole's blog entries and you could win Pan Am Games merchandise from CBC!

Sixteen years ago, the Pan Am Games were held in Winnipeg. The track meet took place at the University of Manitoba — just a kilometre away from my childhood home, and on the same track where I ran. I was 13 years old, and I remember Canada's Leah Pells won the silver medal in the 1,500-metre run.

Now, in just one month, it will be my turn. I, Canada's Nicole Sifuentes, will be chasing the podium in the 1,500m at the Pan Am Games.

It's fun to reflect on the small beginning of my big dreams. In Grade 6, my elementary school, École St. Avila, held a day at the track. We did the standing long jump and some sprints. I'll never forget that day because I did well! I was instantly interested because, unlike every other sport, I realized I was actually good at running.

The next year I joined the Winnipeg Optimist Athletics club and was fortunate to be placed in a group coached by Dianne Sproll. Diane was one of the two most influential people in my running career. She was an enthusiastic coach who encouraged her athletes to set big goals and she taught me, someone who was a bit of a whiner, to stop complaining when the workouts got hard!

Nicole Sifuentes is seen in this photo from a competition in 1998. (Submitted by Nicole Sifuentes)
Over the years she arranged opportunities for the group to travel and compete around Canada and even a couple times in NYC. Since I am extremely competitive, my love for the sport grew as I experienced success. 

While I was in high school at Vincent Massey Collegiate, I qualified for two national teams, representing Canada in the 2003 World Youth Championships and Pan Am Junior Championships. These were my first opportunities to wear the Canadian uniform and I did so with joy and pride. 

Around this time, I began thinking about running in university and set my sights on an athletic scholarship in the United States. My aunt Pam had also been a competitive runner. She attended Rice University in Houston on an athletic scholarship and set several school records while she was there — some that are still standing today.

When I became involved in running, she dug out her old college uniforms and gave me a hoodie and set of warm-ups, which I wore constantly. It's no surprise that I wanted to follow a similar path.

After doing my research and contacting several different coaches from universities all over the U.S., I ended up visiting five schools and was offered a few scholarships. Fortunately a generous offer came from The University of Michigan, my first choice. 

My decision to become a Michigan Wolverine shaped the rest of my athletic career because it led me to coach Mike McGuire, the other most influential person during this time. It has been 11 years since then and we are still working together. Above all, Mike is a patient and steady coach and under his guidance I grew up as an athlete.

I have improved continually over the years and am still getting faster. As a collegiate athlete, he coached me to several conference titles and "All-American" honours, as well as a collegiate national championship.

As a professional athlete, I have become a Canadian Record holder, Olympian, and World bronze medallist under his direction.

Years ago, it was thrilling to see the Canadian women mid-distance runners compete on the big stage. Seeing their success made me believe I could do it too. Now I am one of them.

I am thankful for the athletes that went before me, for my coaches, and my supportive family. I'm thankful for God, who led me to all these people and who gave me the ability to run fast. I cherish every opportunity I have to wear the maple leaf and I look forward to representing Canada when I toe the line in Toronto at the Pan Am Games!


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