Elite athlete represents Canada in sport while managing a demanding academic nursing program

A potentially deadly health scare as a child introduced Torrie Shennan to the compassion of nursing, inspiring the world-class ringette player to pursue a career in pediatric nursing.

22 December 2022

Torrie Shennan was only 12 years old when she realized she wanted to become a nurse, not a doctor like she previously thought. A serious case of rapidly spreading cellulitis in her knee — one that didn’t respond to treatment and was threatening amputation —  landed her in hospital for a week. “It was the scariest moment of my life, especially hearing of possible amputation, and the nurses never failed to make me feel safe and as comfortable as possible,” she says. She recalls one nurse in particular who surprised her with her favourite treat — a fresh, warm bag of popcorn. She admired the way the nurses interacted so compassionately with their patients and decided that was what she wanted to do one day too. Fast-forward to 2022 and Shennan is enrolled in the University of Alberta’s bachelor of science in nursing program, graduating in August 2023.

Shennan discovered the sport of ringette at age eight and soon developed a love for the game that continues to this day, playing with Edmonton WAM! in the National Ringette League.

She represented Alberta at the 2019 Canada Winter Games, and helped Team Canada (under-21 level) win two consecutive World Ringette Championships in 2017 and 2019. In 2021-22, she spent the year in the premier ringette league in Turku, Finland and most recently, represented Canada at the senior level, receiving a silver medal at the 2022 world championships in Finland. 

“It is the highest honour to be chosen to represent your country in international competition and it was my goal for as long as I can remember,” says Shennan. “Having this opportunity to compete on the world stage with a team of such remarkable athletes meant the world to me, a genuine dream come true. I have looked up to the senior national team athletes since I was a kid and there are no words to describe how surreal it was to step onto the ice in Finland wearing a Maple Leaf on my chest after years of training in hopes of that moment.”  

Shennan explains that winning silver was actually one of the hardest moments of her ringette career. “When you train to compete at a world championship, you give 100 per cent of your effort to win gold; you don’t prepare yourself for any other outcome,” she says. However, she was overwhelmed with pride at how well Team Canada represented the country and how far they came to reach that moment. “I learned a lot by receiving the silver medal at this world championships and it is a huge motivation to continue training towards coming back stronger at the next world championship and bringing home gold,” she adds.

Being an elite athlete while in nursing — a demanding academic program — was a challenge and meant some sacrifices along the way. In addition to having a strong support system and making time for rest and self-care, Shennan has had to be dedicated, accountable and self-sufficient — all attributes she feels contribute to her academic success. Balancing athletics and academics has taught her skills in priority setting, time management and communication. “As an athlete, the constant desire to perform at your best during competition translated to studying hard to do well in exams and clinicals,” she says, adding that these skills will also help her be successful in her future career as a registered nurse. 

“I could not have accomplished what I have in the last four years in sport without the considerate staff in the Faculty of Nursing who worked with me to create accommodation plans,” says Shennan, who had to maintain high academic standings to be granted such flexibility. She was permitted to use pre-recorded lectures, write exams early or defer them, complete labs at different times or with different sections, and take a leave of absence to enable her to play ringette in Finland for a year. 

To accommodate Shennan’s participation in the 2022 World Ringette Championships, she was allowed to split her four-week advanced acute-care clinical training into two parts: completing three weeks before the championships with one class section and finishing her final week with a different section after the competition. “I’m beyond grateful I never had to choose between pursuing my athletic dreams or studying for my dream career.”

Her advice to other athletes studying nursing: “Always be open with professors and nursing advisors — set up meetings far ahead of any competitions to discuss and plan for any missed assignments or classes. Don’t be discouraged by setbacks along the way. If you’re diligent and passionate about remaining an elite athlete and studying nursing, the demanding journey is worth all the work.”

After graduation, Shennan wants to do some travel nursing to gain experience in different specialties while experiencing diverse cultures and lifestyles. Ultimately, she would like to return to school to become a nurse practitioner and work in pediatric oncology. She will also continue to play ringette and plans to bring home gold at the next world championships in 2025.