When Fiona Huang was in Grade 6, she told her father she wanted to participate in track and field.

However, Dragon Huang recalled that he had his doubts about that idea.

As he remembers it, his daughter was not as tall as other girls the same age and he didn’t think she was strong enough to make it as a runner.

However, she told him she wanted to try.

“I said, ‘OK, you go ahead. If you like it and if you’d like to continue, then I’ll support you when you go to track meets,'” recalled Dragon Huang. “After a while, she was doing really well. So I said I’m happy to support her.”

Dragon Huang now has even more reason to be happy for his daughter and proud of her as she is now a member of the prestigious track team at the University of Toronto.

Fiona Huang said it is an honour to be part of the team.

Fiona Huang, a graduate of Diamond Jenness Secondary School, gets ready for the start of a race with the University of Toronto’s track team. Photo courtesy of Fiona Huang

“I’m definitely counting my blessings every day, and absorbing the opportunity, the experience and not thinking too much about it,” she said. “Just going with the flow.”

The 18-year-old – a graduate of Diamond Jenness Secondary School – was recruited to the U of T track team, but she still had to make the team after starting her studies last fall in kinesiology.

“We kind of have open tryouts for anybody and there’s obviously recruits,” she explained. “So we’re all fighting for our spot on the team. No one is guaranteed, at all. Every day that you go to practice, you’re proving yourself on the team. You’re giving your all at practice.”

Huang believes her talent as a runner may have been spotted at the Canada Summer Games and other bigger events.

Now at the University of Toronto, she runs sprints and relays.

Huang noted that, when she first started running, she liked to compete in cross-country events.

“I guess maybe it’s because I’ve done long distances for a while or I grew out of them, but now I enjoy sprints more,” she said.

As a member of the University of Toronto track team, Huang is learning more about running from top coaching and talented teammates.

“Honestly, as long as I’m improving and having fun with it, there’s nothing more I can ask for being on a track team,” she said. “I think for me it’s such a good balance in my life, having track and having school.”

However, she noted the combined demands of the sport and studies can be a little stressful at times, explaining she trains three hours a day, five days a week.

“It is really demanding,” she said, while noting such a schedule makes her better with time management because she can’t procrastinate.

Aside from the training, there are the competitions. So far, Huang has travelled basically every weekend with her team to meets in various parts of Ontario, in Alberta and in the U.S.

Fiona Huang, a graduate of Diamond Jenness Secondary School, gets ready for the start of a race with the University of Toronto’s track team. Photo courtesy of Fiona Huang

“We travel quite a bit,” she said.

Huang noted she has been welcomed onto her new team.

“I was super welcomed when I first went to U of T,” she said. “Coming from Hay River to Toronto, it was a big adjustment.”

Overall, Huang was pleased with her rookie year with the team, even though she had to deal with a hamstring injury from which she has now recovered.

She is the only Northerner on the U of T track team, which has about 80 members.

“Everyone is always so mesmerized that I’m from the North. They ask me so many questions,” she said, adding that some of the questions are about polar bears and igloos.

Along with sports, Huang is pleased with the education she is receiving at the University of Toronto.

“Honestly, U of T is probably for me the best place for track and school,” she said. “I don’t think I can ask for a better kinesiology program.”

Huang said she may study medicine after she earns her kinesiology degree.

As for her ambitions as a runner, she said she is taking it day by day and she is not going to put too much pressure on herself.

“I’m forever grateful to be a Varsity Blue,” she said. “I think it’s so cool.”

This summer, Huang is back in Hay River and working for the NWT Power Corporation.

She hopes to be an inspiration to young runners in her hometown.

“Anything is possible,” she said. “Just because you come from a small town that’s not known doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. I think, as long as you work hard, nothing’s impossible.”


Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.