Sports have always been an important part of Jacqueline Lavallee's life. In high school, the young Metis woman from Saskatoon was involved in basketball, soccer, track and volleyball. And when she attended the University of Saskatchewan, where she completed combined Education and Kinesiology degrees with a minor in Native Studies, she was on both the university's soccer team and basketball team.
Lavallee was named the university's athlete of the year in 2000, the same year she was named a Canada West all-star in basketball, and an all-Canadian in soccer.
Last year Lavallee was recognized for her accomplishments in the classroom.
In 2002, she was named as a Royal Bank of Canada Academic All-Canadian. Through the program, certificates of recognition are given to exceptional student athletes who maintain an academic average of 80 per cent or better while competing on one of their university's varsity teams.
Then, the top two athletes from each of five Canadian Interuniversity Sport regions are recognized nationally. Lavallee was selected as the female recipient for the Canada West conference.
Although Lavallee is no longer a student at the University of Saskatchewan-she graduated last fall-she is still active in the school's sports program, though this time from the sidelines.
This school year, she has returned to the university as assistant coach of the basketball team.
While coaching is something Lavallee has always been interested in, her current coaching duties are just a temporary diversion from playing the game herself.
A couple of game-related injuries, compounded by years of playing, finally took their toll, and she had to have surgery on her shoulder in the fall.
"Coaching's always been something I'd like to pursue. I've always had a passion for wanting to learn more about the game and the coaching aspect, but it was more the injury that kind of sidelined me and forced me to take on that kind of role as opposed to being an active player," she said. "Otherwise, I was planning to try and go play in Europe for the year, overseas, in some of the professional leagues. But because of the surgery, I had to stay back for the year. So now, I'm actually just in the process of getting out some player resumes to try and play in Europe this fall."
As for her plans for the summer, she's gearing up for national basketball team tryouts, which will take place in June. If she makes the team, then she can look forward to representing Canada at the Pan Am Games, which will be held in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic in August, and for qualifications for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Lavallee knows that one of the barriers that young Aboriginal people can face in trying to get involved in sports is the expense, but she says there is financial help available. Lavallee found the resources she needed through her Metis local, and through the university itself. She also suggests checking with your provincial sports organization, many of which are dedicating more money to promoting participation in sports to Aboriginal youth, and to find out about what scholarships are available.
While finding the necessary financial support is one thing, another is believing in yourself enough to stick it out over the long term.
"You know, because I was playing two sports, a lot of people always told me I wasn't going to go anywhere if I didn't choose, and you get a lot of pressure from a lot of areas about focusing on academics or quitting one or the other sport. Just follow your heart, really, is what I ended up doing."