This summer, U SPORTS tells the stories of former Canadian university student-athletes who continue to find success both in the sports world and in their professional careers. In the first installment, a former BLG Award winner is forced to take a break from racing, but is making strides in the workplace.
With a name like Proudfoot, you can’t not run.
Unless you are plagued with injury, which has been the case lately for the former distance running standout for the University of Guelph turned Olympic hopeful.
“I am dealing with plantar fasciitis,” he says. “I caught this injury about three months ago. It is taking longer to heal than I thought.”
His current ailment succeeds a complicated case of sciatica that cost him a chance to defend his title of two years at the 2017 Canadian cross country championship. “At this point, I just need to clear up this injury and get back to square one.”
Proudfoot is in unfamiliar territory. There have been no national championships, personal bests, or international competitions so far for the 25-year-old in 2018. But, to paint the last calendar year as a microcosm of the track and field and cross country specialist’s career would be preposterous. In fact, for the better part of the last decade, he was consistency personified. The Sudbury, Ont., native was perhaps the most important cog in Guelph’s machine as they dominated the U SPORTS cross country running circuit by winning the championship banner in each of his five years of eligibility between 2010 and 2014. He was Rookie of the Year in his first campaign, and in his last, the individual gold medalist and Cross Country Athlete of the Year.
For Proudfoot, however, running success never stood alone. Over his five years of excellence on the track and cross country course in Guelph, he earned an undergraduate and a master’s degree.
“I finished up my human kinetics degree in four years. And doing a master’s seemed like the right call career-wise and running-wise,” says Proudfoot. “I had further aspirations as a runner, and Guelph is very running-focused. So, I decided to pursue a master’s degree in human health and nutritional science – specifically in physiology and metabolism, while using my final year of eligibility.”
And what a year it was. After being named Athlete of the Year in cross country, he went on to win the 1500m and 3000m in the 2015 indoor season. Along with Guelph’s Kyle Boorsma, Calgary’s Geoff Kerr and Windsor’s Cristiano Mauricio, he is the only varsity athlete to triumph in all three varsity long-distance events in an academic year since 2000 (despite having to repeatedly face off against eventual 2016 Olympian Charles Philibert-Thiboutot, then of Laval). Proudfoot’s prowess eventually earned him the U SPORTS BLG Award in 2015, given to the Athlete of the Year across all sports.
“Staying for a fifth year ended up being a great idea,” says Proudfoot. “It got me to a fitness where I believed I could make the Olympics. For me, staying in the CIS was the best thing to help me bridge the gap between myself and the top runners in the country and come out of it ready to achieve my goals.”
Though he narrowly missed the qualification standard for the Rio Olympics, he walked away from 2016 with a second straight national cross country title, and hungry for another push.
Meanwhile, Proudfoot had expended his time as a student, and needed work. Luckily, his fifth year at Guelph not only helped him develop as a runner, it launched him on a promising career path.
“Having a master’s degree really opened doors for me. For the past nine months now, I have been working as a Territory Sales Representative for a pharmaceutical company in Peterborough,” says Proudfoot, who holds a patient-focused position in vaccine sales. “Much of what we do is have educational conversations with physicians by sharing our research about our product with them. For example, we break down how a certain vaccine may benefit patients, and more specifically which types of patients may benefit from the vaccine.
“This type of work is a great step into the health care industry, and coming from a human physiology background, I have an in-depth understanding of how the vaccine works,” adding it mostly is used to treat shingles.
Thriving and improving in Guelph’s hyper-focused running environment prepared Proudfoot well for the workforce.
“Growing as a person, working hard with a group to reach a common goal, accountability in training and time management gets you where you want to be, and these are all transferrable qualities from the track to the workplace,” he says, noting that being surrounded by Guelph’s elite distance running community taught Proudfoot a thing or two about how to thrive in a high-achievement environment. “It takes a huge amount of focus to succeed in your sport - that environment in Guelph felt like a unique bubble that would be difficult to create anywhere else. I was training with Olympic finalists and Diamond Leaguers. It gets you prepared to work at a high level at anything you are doing.”
The best part of his current job? Flexibility.
“This position gives me the time at night and late afternoons to get out for runs. I had developed a good balance in the winter, when I was healthy,” he says, of the balance that bodes well for the next few years. Despite fighting a resistant body as of late, Proudfoot is nowhere near done.
“2020 has been the goal. I know I have been in good enough fitness to challenge those Olympic standards – the race had just not happened before injury.”
Now all he needs is another chance.
“Even though a lot has changed as I have a job and I have been injured, I am optimistic that I can come back on the scene and step it back up.”