Active kindness

Financial aid and encouragement helped turn Wendy Jerome's life around. Now she's doing the same for U of A students

Stephanie Bailey, '10 BA(Hons) - 03 December 2020

UAlberta grad and pioneering sport psychologist Wendy Jerome reflects on her inspiring life, and why she gives back to students.

The hallways of Victoria Composite High School felt less intimidating when Wendy Jerome, '58 BPE, returned at 20 years old. She was no longer the painfully shy teenager who had once walked through there.

After all, Wendy had just fulfilled her dream of attending the University of Alberta, and had the physical education degree to prove it. But before she took her next step, there was one thing she had to do.

"I wanted to thank the teachers and the principal because I couldn't have done it without them being there for me," she explains. And that day, one teacher had a final assignment for Wendy: "Now do the same for someone else."

Wendy has indeed paid forward the teacher's kindness. In fact, she went on to dedicate her whole career to helping others - as a teacher, an Olympic-level coach and a pioneering sport psychologist. Now retired, she continues to give back through a bursary for students in financial need in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, and she has made a gift in her will to that same bursary.

"I want to help that student who's at a critical point in their education but having a tough time trying to make ends meet, trying to do it on their own," she explains. "That student who is like me."

Wendy had to pay her own way through university, working odd jobs during the summers and, during the school year, rushing to work in the evenings after long days as a student athlete. Even then, money was tight. "Eating. It was a challenge," she explains. In her third year of studies, she thought she would have to drop out until Maurice Van Vliet - dean of what was at the time called the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation - recommended she apply for the Proctor & Gamble bursary. The $200 bursary (about $1,800 today) paid her tuition that year.

"I was lucky to have people who took an interest in me and cared about me when I had no self-esteem and no support at home," she says. Thanks to encouragement and financial aid, she was able to realize her dream and finish her degree. She became one of Canada's first sport psychologists and she helped athletes reach their peak performance.

"I love to see potential. It's a wonderful feeling to help. It's a joy," she says. Her hope now is that

students who receive her bursary will one day feel the joy of giving back, as well. Students like kinesiology major, Eric Gwilliam.

Thanks to Wendy's bursary, Eric has focused less on financial stress and more on his own efforts to help others. Like Wendy, Eric sees the potential in everyone - whether it's the kids he coaches in wrestling or people like his sister, Kari. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy after a traumatic car collision, Kari has been in a wheelchair most of her life.

Eric came to the U of A to study adapted physical activity, with the dream of one day empowering people like Kari to lead active lives, no matter what their impairments might be. But paying the bills hasn't been easy. "Getting a bursary was a huge relief," he says.

The bursary means Eric can pay it forward. "I want to help people - whether that's people with cognitive impairments, physical impairments, people understanding what impairments are," he says. "One of the big impacts I want to make with my degree is just to help."

And so the legacy of helping others continues. Which is exactly what Wendy had hoped for. "It makes me feel that I've done something worthwhile."