When two parallel lines meet

When two parallel lines meet

'Juggling classes and training isn’t as easy as some might think'

By Philippe Gagné for CBC Sports
July 18, 2018

As a child, I never quite understood why my parents were so persistent about the idea of keeping my grades up while pursuing a healthy lifestyle through sports.

It took time for diver Philippe Gagné to realize how important school was to his career. (Submitted by Philippe Gagné) It took time for diver Philippe Gagné to realize how important school was to his career. (Submitted by Philippe Gagné)

To me, you were either an athlete or a student - there was no in-between. Of course, 10 year-old me was always trying to convince them that school wasn’t important since I was planning on becoming a high-level athlete.

Unfortunately, it seems that my arguments were never truly convincing, since the number of times I won that debate was a big zero.
Ten years later, I finally understand what they meant back then. Although being a student-athlete is far from being a stroll in the park, if I could go back in time to choose another career path, I would without a doubt follow the same one that brought me to where I am today.

Throughout high school and pre university (CEGEP), I discovered that mixing an academic life with high-level sport is a terrific way to build character.  In fact, what I find truly fascinating was how these two spheres of my life influenced one another in a positive manner.

For example, the strict and straight-to-the point structure of our education system has taught me how to be organized, meticulous and focused during training and competition. At the same time, diving on the international scene has helped me to handle stress and emotions efficiently during exam periods.


From books to flips

Lucky as I am to practise a sport that I love while pursuing academics, I have to admit to considering a break from school to focus entirely on diving. Mixing the two activities is a challenge. I must effectively divide the time devoted to each set of personal objectives; like a grade in math class or a score at the next world championships.

The thing I find most difficult about being a student-athlete is constantly having to be in an environment where I am graded or scored depending on performance. Ultimately, for a perfectionist (and basically every athlete practising an artistic sport fits this category), proving myself through higher scores and grades become a personal and daily mission. This may not seem so terrible, but simultaneously directing all your energy toward studies and training sets the perfect stage for exhaustion.

Since my studies and my training have become the two determining factors of my career, it is difficult for me to create a clear separation between the two.  Most of the time, but especially during exams or competition, they get intertwined.  On many occasions during practice, I start thinking of math or physics problems I was unable to solve before coming to training. Think it’s hard to do a reverse one and a half with three and a half twists? Try doing it while attempting to solve an annoying trigonometric integral in your head.


I will never complain about being lucky enough to travel the globe representing the Canadian flag. However, being on the road for weeks on end can result in missing out on school back home. This means that while I am away, I must find time outside of training and competition hours to catch up on missed notes and exams. So, worrying about awaiting evaluations while trying to focus on diving becomes a distraction. Oddly enough, I have always compared this feeling to the slight need to pee just before falling asleep; you try to ignore it as long as you can, but in the end ... you will get it done.


Balancing act

Juggling classes and training isn’t as easy as some might think. But in living this lifestyle for the past eight years, I have learned a few strategies, or life-hacks as everyone seems to call them now. First, organization is key. 

Organization is a big part of Gagné’s life. (Submitted by Philippe Gagné) Organization is a big part of Gagné’s life. (Submitted by Philippe Gagné)

By this I don’t mean making a rough draft of your schedule. I mean writing down a complete and detailed plan of your day. This might seem a bit excessive to some (including myself sometimes), but I mentally plan my day down to the minute: starting with my training and class hours, followed by time spent eating breakfast, lunch and dinner, and finishing with time spent travelling to school, to the pool and back home. When all that is done, I can safely approximate the time to spend on my studies and more importantly, my personal life.

Meticulously organizing my day is so important because I would be driven to madness if my life only included training, studying, eating and sleeping. Taking the time to disconnect from the stress of school and training at least once a day is what helps me survive such a heavy schedule. So, by neatly organizing my day, I can reserve an hour or two (usually at the end of the day) where I can do things a “normal” teenager would do; play Xbox, watch TV, or hang out with friends.

In the last two years, I have realized that getting through a heavy and nerve-wracking schedule means being willing to ask people for support. During the 2016 Olympic qualification process, which started during the summer of 2015 and ended in June of 2016, I could not tolerate the stress from constant training and school. Not only was that season my first year in CEGEP, but it was also my first time going through the entire qualification process for the Olympic Games. I was neck-deep in uncharted waters, and boy was I scared.


Halfway through the qualifying season, I realized that I was slowly being crushed by all the pressure. I had trouble sleeping, I was easily irritated, and I couldn’t seem to get diving or school off my mind. This period was not pleasant, but it made me realize how essential it is to have a team during challenging times.

For the first time in my career, I wasn’t reticent in asking for help. The support of my coaches, teammates, medical specialists, sport psychologists, teachers, friends and obviously parents, was what made my dream blossom into a beautiful reality. And all while never being late for class, of course.

(Top large image by Frank Gunn/Canadian Press; second large photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images; third large photo by Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

The Philippe Gagné edition

Q: The best book you've ever read? 
A: IT by Stephen King.

Q: Must-listen Podcast? 
A: Physics world.

Q: Best advice you ever received? 
A: "If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you're setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time." ― Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

Q: If your life was a movie, what would it be called? 
A: A hard day’s night/A streetcar named Desire.

Q: What word or phrase do you overuse? 
A: Are you serious?

Q: What is a skill you wish you had? 
A: Singing.

Q: What's something no one would guess about you? 
A: My biggest dream is to become an astronaut…

Q: If you could have the ultimate influential dinner party, who are the six people you'd invite? 
A: Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Terry Tao, Jordan Peterson, Barrack Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio.

Q: What makes you cry, every time? 
A: Acts of great generosity between strangers.

Q: What's the next goal you want to accomplish? 
A: 2020 Olympics.

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