HANTS COUNTY, N.S. — Grade 9 students Aria MacDonald and Righo Etou aren’t your average athletes — or academics.
In late May, during the King’s-Edgehill School’s annual athletics banquet, the two students were each recognized for their excellence in athletics, academics and abilities to successfully balance the two. Each received the athlete of the year award and the scholar athlete of the year award.
The KES junior school’s athletic director, Kevin Lakes, spoke highly of the two students in an interview.
“They’re really exceptional kids,” says Lakes. “Each of them, both bring athleticism, but also they bring an academic focus, school is very important to them.
A love for running
MacDonald, a resident of Port Williams, is no stranger to being recognized for her hard work, as this is the second year in a row that she’s won the junior female athlete of the year award.
This year, MacDonald also won three awards for the sports she took part in this past year — biathlon, cross-country and track and field. MacDonald also won awards for cross-country and biathlon the year before as well.
MacDonald says she’s very grateful to have received these awards.
While MacDonald says it’s hard for her to pick just one favourite sport that she currently plays, at this point in her life, she considers running to be her passion.
“I tend to switch between sports a lot,” says MacDonald. “But right now, running is my passion…I Just really love it.”
MacDonald adds that initially, in Grade 7, she didn’t run and had no real interest in beginning the sport, but her parents, who she says are avid runners, convinced her to give it a shot.
“In Grade 7 I didn’t really run at all,” says MacDonald. “But my parents did, and, kind of, they tried to drag me to run, but I wasn’t that good, I didn’t really like it.”
When the time came for track and field to begin, MacDonald was determined to give running another chance and chose to do sprinting – but soon realized it wasn’t for her.
She eventually found her love for long distance running when she began jogging on the trails behind the school while the other athletes went away to regionals and provincials.
“I just kind of fell in love with it,” says MacDonald. “Then I trained a lot over the summer and got a fairly good base and trained really hard with the other athletes when the season came, and that’s when I got really into it.”
MacDonald competes in the five-kilometre in cross-country, and the 3,000-, 1,500- and 800-metre events in track and field.
Potential for Canada Games
While passionate about running, MacDonald says that biathlon is a huge part of her life — a sport she’s lucky enough to share an interest in with her father.
“I’d say my dad is like my mentor,” says MacDonald. “We started doing biathlon around the same time and both kind of developed as athletes and our knowledge at the same time. We give each other advice and help each other out.”
This past season, MacDonald had the opportunity to travel to the Canadian Biathlon Championships in Charlo, New Brunswick — where she competed at the senior girls’ level.
“It was a great opportunity,” says MacDonald.
MacDonald enjoys biathlon because she considers it to be “very much a mental game as much as a physical (one).”
Due to poor snow conditions in Nova Scotia this past winter, MacDonald and her team had to do more dry land training than usual and travel out of province for snow training.
MacDonald also trains with Biathlon Nova Scotia. Even after the season ended, she continued to train and she’s already eyeing next season — and also the possibility of competing at the Canada Games.
“It’s definitely on the table,” says MacDonald. “The team’s talked about it a lot, but I’m still deciding, because it’s such a huge commitment.”
Keeping a balance
When it comes to keeping the balance between her athletics and academics, the honours student says her parents are a big influence on her success.
“A lot of it comes from my parents,” says MacDonald. “They are really into an active, sporty lifestyle, but also stress the importance of a good education and putting the effort in.”
MacDonald adds that playing sports helps a lot with being able to properly balance herself with school.
“It takes up a lot of my time, but it helps me in other aspects of my life, because they’re so many skills you learn from sports and things you can take into other aspects of your life,” she said.
Aside from academics and athletics, MacDonald has an interest in theatre and played Cinderella in the junior school’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
Junior male athlete
Etou is also no stranger to having his hard work recognized, as last year he received the NSSAF Junior Male Good Sport Award.
The Congolese international student from France has come a long way since last year, bringing home awards for soccer and basketball on top of the two others he won in May. Etou also played rugby this past year.
Etou says that, while he wasn’t expecting to win the awards this year, he’s happy to see his hard work recognized.
“It felt good; it was really nice for me to get both awards,” says Etou. “I did not expect to get both of them, but it was still a really nice thing, and I knew that I worked hard to get them.”
While the soccer and basketball awards he earned this year were for playing on junior teams, Etou had the opportunity to play with the boys’ senior basketball and rugby teams as well.
However, athletics alone aren’t the only area in which Etou is ahead of the rest, it’s academics as well. The 14-year-old has skipped a grade and is a year younger than his peers.
As he is taller than most of the players on the junior team, Etou says playing basketball for the junior school was less competitive and he’s happy he got the opportunity to have a month to play with the seniors, who are older and have more experience.
“It made me better just playing with them,” says the forward. “In the junior school, it was easier to shoot over their heads, or to drive in, but with the senior school, I had to learn to do things that I didn’t have to do before, and it made my game a lot better.”
While he’s played rugby for years, getting to play the whole season with the senior team was an amazing learning experience.
“I got to do things that were just new to me,” says Etou, who plays back in rugby. “Even though it was a short season, it was very challenging, and it was a lot of fun.”
Keeping the balance
When it comes to keeping a steady balance between his athletics and academics, Etou says his biggest asset is time management.
“We have prep time every day from 7 to 10, I use it to study and do my school work,” says Etou.
Etou adds that grades are what he considers to be most important to him overall, and that his parents are a big influence on him to do well and get good grades.
“Getting good grades is very important to me,” says Etou. “Grades are a big deal to my parents as well, they push me to get good grades every year, they’re a big part of who I am.”
Etou also adds that receiving the scholar athlete of the year award meant that all the hard work he’d put in had paid off, and that he knew how to properly balance his academics and athletics.
While sports are a big part of his life in school, he doesn’t plan to play sports professionally, and instead he wants to go into business like his father, who he considers to be his role model.
Aside from athletics and academics, Etou also plays the piano.