KPE alumni recognized with Arbor Awards for outstanding volunteering service

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Joining this year’s more than 100 award winners were two members of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education family: U of T’s Bachelor of Physical and Health Education alumna Deborah (Debbie) Low and Varsity Blues fencing alumnus Thomas Nguyen.  

“I feel honoured and humbled to be recognized with the Arbor Award from U of T and to join such a group of inspiring individuals that have been honoured before me. Winning the Arbor Award has made me reflect on what I have accomplished so far and what is yet to come,” says Low, who is president and chief executive officer of the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO), one of six national sport centres that provide services to Canada’s high performance athletes and coaches.

For more than 10 years, Low has provided supervision and mentorship for KPE’s undergraduate and graduate students and, more recently, Masters of Professional Kinesiology interns. For kinesiology students, working at CSIO is an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the world of applied sport science. Learning alongside leading scientists and researchers, the students perform tests ranging from biomechanical analysis with underwater cameras to aerobic endurance tests on top Canadian athletes.

“The knowledge and expertise that I gained through the KPE program taught by extremely accomplished professors can be directly attributed to my success as a sport leader and I want to ensure that I am doing my part in building the next generation of leaders,” says Low.

Low has been an active volunteer, sitting on sport committees and boards at the provincial, national and international levels and she credits her self-confidence to take on these leadership opportunities to the skills she gained through the KPE program.

“Most impactful for me was the experience that I had as the Chef de Mission for Team Canada at the 2008 Paralympic Team. U of T taught me a sense of community and it is important for me to share back these experiences,” she says.

“I have been able to build different skill sets by being a volunteer that have directly benefited me in my work life. I believe strongly that volunteerism is a win-win for all involved and that is what motivates me to continue volunteering.”

Nguyen has been an active member of the KPE community for over 20 years, as member of the Varsity Blues fencing coaching staff and head coach since 2008. Over the years, he has provided the U of T community with fencing instruction through co-curricular instructional programs, child and youth programs, as well as high performance fencing programs. He continues to serve the community by empowering the fencing students’ development inside and outside of the classroom.

“My own experience as an athlete was enriched by the friendships and camaraderie within the university, and more specifically within the fencing program when I was still a student,” says Nguyen, who has a bachelor’s degree in Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, and a master’s degree in Medical Biophysics from U of T.

“My fencing master at the time, Maître Ken Wood, was a key figure in this experience; he himself had volunteered at the university for over 45 years and was inducted into the U of T Sport Hall of Fame as a builder. It was Ken who got me into coaching and volunteering with the Varsity Blues program starting in 1998.”

Nguyen says interacting with the students has been a key motivator for him, having gone through the same pathways as them. 

“Helping these young students to navigate through life, as well as benefit the most from their university experience, is enriching unto itself. Being able to positively impact a young person’s life is both a privilege and a responsibility,” says Nguyen.

“Coaching is a great way to do this as sports can provide such a wonderful mechanism to enrich a person’s life. I hope history will show that I have endeavoured to continue fostering our proud prominence, traditions and successes, while building the program even further.”

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