Law student drives to school from Red Deer every day

Single mom's commute is two hours each way

Denis Ram - 07 January 2020

Driving to Edmonton from Red Deer may seem like a substantial trip, but for Sarah Kriekle, a second-year University of Alberta Faculty of Law student, it's just another day.

The single mom didn't want to displace her two children, eight and nine years old, from their friends, family, and school, so she opted to continue living in Red Deer and commute to Edmonton for law classes.

"I drop my daughters off to a day home at 7 (a.m.), and if all works out I get to school two minutes before class starts," said Kriekle, who lets her professors know about her circumstances when each semester starts.

The daily four-hour round trip is a compromise that allows Kriekle to pursue her desire of getting a law degree.

"I wanted to do law since I was in foster care growing up," she said. "By 30, I achieved everything I aimed for and felt like I could finally do it."

During bad weather, it is nearly impossible for Kriekle to make it to school. With primarily one road leading directly from Red Deer to Edmonton (the Queen Elizabeth II Highway), one traffic accident can cause an hours-long delay.

"Last year I got lucky," said Kriekle. "It only seemed to blizzard on the weekends, so I only missed four days of class because of bad roads."

Her worst delay was caused by a truck loaded with bananas flipping over, causing a three-hour backup to clear the road of the fruit.

With no morning buses going from Red Deer to Edmonton, Kriekle also cannot get to class unless her car is working. So maintaining her vehicle is non-negotiable.

If stuck in traffic or at school, Kriekle relies on close friends and family to pick up her kids from their day home at 5:30 p.m. That support network is the main reason her schedule has worked.

"The hardest part is I lose four hours every time I come to class and back," said Kriekle, "I can't do much, so I listen to readings on Bluetooth and then switch gears when I get home."

Only after picking her kids up, taking them to gymnastics and swimming three times a week, helping them with their homework, and getting them ready for bed, is Kriekle able to tackle her own homework.

"I had to decide early not to think about law school as a competition," said Kriekle. "I just have to do the best I can. I had to learn how to be very efficient."

Nonetheless, Kriekle has maintained good academic standing in both years of law school, which allowed her to receive the Susan M. Anderson Award in Law in 2018-2019, and both the Honourable Cecilia Johnstone Adversity Award and the Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP Student Bursary in Law in 2019-2020.

"These awards are gifts that have offered me a level of support I have never had, but they represent so much more than just money," said Kriekle.

"They acknowledge the effort required to manage parental and household obligations alone, and to balance that with the costs and rigors of law school. I am truly grateful to the donors for their generous support because I feel like the legal community is championing me to succeed."

Kriekle admits there is a bit of a lifestyle gap between her and many of her peers, and with her long commute simple decisions on how to get involved with clubs and events outside of class require planning and foresight. Yet she has found time to socialize with classmates at lunch and school events.

"It's a nice balancing," said Kriekle. "The people I've bonded with tend to be older because there's just more commonality. They all seem to prefer daytime lunches versus getting drinks."

After completing high school and attending Red Deer College, Kriekle switched to an online university to complete her bachelor's degree at her own pace. Fifteen years later, she had a degree and was working in supply chain management.

For law school, Kriekle wasn't sure whether to head to Calgary or Edmonton. She chose UAlberta Law after receiving a welcoming phone call from Professor Erin Nelson and Associate Professor Cameron Jefferies regarding her offer of acceptance.

"I felt the call was a nice touch," said Kriekle. "It was probably why I got convinced."