Cam Carter’s post-secondary life is looking bright.
The 17-year-old St. John Brebeuf student was chosen for a $100,000 Loran Scholarship last week.
But his path to the honour was far from sure a few years ago, when he was an athlete whose studies were largely an afterthought.
Before Grade 9, Carter said he struggled with some aspects of school and even failed one course in grade 8.
A water polo coach impressed upon him the need for academic achievement – in addition to athletic excellence – to win a good scholarship.
Carter took the message to heart.
Starting in Grade 9, he tapped into his competitive nature to motivate himself to excel in all of his studies.
Three years later, Carter said the win was a great honour.
The Loran Scholarship was awarded to 33 well-rounded young leaders across the country this year.
“To find Canada’s next generation of leaders, we must look beyond grades and rankings to find the promise of character,” the scholarships website says.
In addition to having his post-secondary tuition and living expenses covered, Carter will be sent on special internships around the word during his summer breaks.
The Loran scholarship is named after a radio technology and stands for “long range navigation,” a metaphor for how it’s meant to guide scholars through their whole lives, and not just during a four-year university program.
One of the key factors that likely helped him stand out in a crowd of applicants – where “the caliber was phenomenal,” according to Carter – was his dedication to sports.
Carter is an accomplished water polo player, having captained B.C.’s national-winning provincial team. He also runs cross country.
Carter has volunteered at a soup kitchen and has been a coach for Special Olympians.
He’s also an accomplished student, with a special interest in biology and other sciences, a passion he hopes to continue pursuing by studying kinesiology at the University of Toronto next fall.
Somehow, Carter also finds the time to read books, work a part-time job and participate in St. John Brebeuf’s student council.
Rita Wakely, Carter’s grade 7 teacher at St. James Elementary, described her former student as ” very dynamic.”
In addition to being his teacher, she also facilitated his Special Olympics coaching and volunteeering at NightShift Street Ministries – a soup kitchen in Surrey. Watley said that no matter where Carter is or whom he is talking to, he is “patient and kind” with people.
The process to win the prestigious scholarship was long and complicated, involving several essays and multiple interviews, some one-on-one and others in front of panels with other applicants.
Carter was first chosen as one of three nominees from his school, then went to regional finals in Vancouver and later to Toronto, where he missed one of a series of interviews due to an unfortunate flight delay.
While in Toronto, Carter was subjected to a series of interviews, where he was asked all kinds of challenging questions.
One stood out more than most: He was asked about a time where he found purpose through struggle.
Carter recounted the fallout from a knee injury he suffered in November 2015, which he says took him out of the water polo pool and robbed him of his identity.
He had surgery and was in a wheelchair and on crutches for weeks afterwards.
Twenty hours a week of training suddenly became a void of free time in his schedule.
“It was too much free time,” he said.
The empty hours and separation from his teammates were just part of it, he said. He also felt the core of his identity as an athlete had been taken from him.
But he was able to find inspiration from another set of athletes: the Special Olympians he helped coach.
He said many of the swimmers with intellectual disabilities faced challenges greater than his knee injury every day of their lives, some of whom spent years practising to be able to swim a single length of the pool.
“That was really inspiring and motivating for me to get back to what I wanted to do and there’s a lot of personalities there that are great examples of what a good attitude is,” he said.
Carter would return to the pool eight months after his injury.
Following his final interviews in last week, Carter got on a plane back home but was delayed in Calgary during a layover.
By coincidence, his water polo team was in town to compete in a national league tournament and, in true character, he decided take a taxi to the pool and seize the opportunity to play a game.
While warming up, his phone rang. It was someone Franca Gucciardi, executive director of the Loran Foundation.
He’d gotten the scholarship.
After hanging up, Carter sat by the pool and cried for about five minutes, he said.
He called his parents to tell them the good news, told his teammates (some of whom didn’t believe him).
Moments later, he was in the pool, where he played one of the best games he’s had in a while.