Isabel Sarty had to keep a secret from almost everyone she knew for close to a month, and the excitement was almost too much to handle.
“In December, I got an email from U Sports that said ‘Congratulations for winning the [U Sports] Top 8 Academic All-Canadian award for the AUS.’ But I couldn’t tell anyone until a couple of weeks later when they released [nominees publicly],” said the fourth-year neuroscience student. Sarty is the reigning and back-to-back Atlantic University Sport [AUS] women’s Swimmer of the Year.
“I was allowed to tell my family. Keeping that secret over the next couple of weeks was a bit tough. I knew what was going on, but I couldn’t share it with the people who have supported me until a couple of weeks later. It was hard not to send out thank-yous and appreciation right away with all the excitement,” she said.
Sarty, of the Dalhousie University Tigers swimming team, was named a U Sports Top 8 Academic All-Canadian for the 2019-2020 season alongside Matt Coolen of the Tigers’ track team. U Sports awards the Academic All-Canadian honour to student-athletes who receive an average of 80 per cent or higher in their courses while playing on a varsity team. U Sports chooses Top 8 awards based on student-athletes’ performance at the top of the podium and the classroom.
Coolen, who graduated last spring from his engineering program, said he remembers getting a call from Tim Maloney, the Tigers’ executive director, with the good news.
“At the moment, I was so shocked. It was so exciting and I was at a loss of words,” said the two-time AUS men’s Track Athlete of the Year and a U Sports first team All-Canadian. “I was hopeful, but I know there are so many great student-athletes across the country, it was a tight pool. I always hoped because you never know. I’m very lucky and honoured to receive this award.”
Dal takes both AUS awards
With their wins, Coolen and Sarty become the 15th and 16th Tigers to win the honour. Two awards, one male and one female, are given in each of U Sports’ four conferences for a total of eight national winners. Having won both AUS honours, Coolen and Sarty become the second pair of Tigers to sweep the conference podium in the same year. The first pair from Dal to do that was Miranda McMillan and Nathan Musoke in 2011-2012. The honour was introduced in the 1993-1994 season.
“I’m honoured to be recognized for this award, but it’s even more special to be recognized alongside Matt. It’s a testament to Dalhousie and its programs,” Sarty said. “It says something about the university. It just goes to show how supportive our university has been over the past couple of years.”
“It’s awesome that we were both selected. It shows we have a great athletic and academic community at Dal. It’s a great showing for the school,” Coolen said.
Championship effort in the classroom
Coolen earned the nomination on the strength of a 3.76 GPA, along with his many track wins. Like many Dal students, he had to finish his school year from a distance because of the first COVID-19 shutdown. The stakes were high for him though, as a graduating student in contention for awards like the Top 8 nomination he now owns.
“We were very lucky for track and field. We were able to fly to Edmonton for the U Sports Championships to compete [in early March],” he said. “Academically, it was a very anti-climactic way to finish off, but still exciting to finish. It was tough first transitioning to virtual. But at that point, you got to do what you got to do.”
Sarty, in the final year of her neuroscience degree, put up a 4.15 GPA in 2019-2020 and multiple medals throughout the year’s swim meets. She said this past year hasn’t been quite the same as her usual university experience.
“I’m usually always on the run, but now I’m inside my home all day until swim practice,” Sarty said. “I miss competing and things like the fun team travel, like staying with teammates in hotels and going on the bus together, and getting our tracksuits on and cheering each other on. I miss that whole experience. That’s one of my favourite memories in university swimming, but I’m still glad we got to train this year.”
Sarty said she’s interested in pursuing a career in medical science and possibly beginning graduate school next year. Meanwhile, Coolen is working for Hatch, an engineering consulting firm in Halifax. He also occasionally runs with his old team at Dal. He said he loves the sport and wants to stay involved as long as he can.
“I’m planning on staying in Halifax for a bit and I plan to keep training. I love trying to keep getting better and faster,” he said. Coolen has spent the last few summers training with HaliFAST, Nova Scotia’s largest track club. “As for now, I’m enjoying working and training here.”