When the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside-down in middle of his final high school semester, Nelson’s Stevie McCulloch didn’t wallow in disappointment and embraced the challenge of getting through a tricky part of his life under difficult circumstances.
A competitive swimmer and distance runner at the provincial level, the 17-year-old was familiar with heartbreaking interruption to expectations when he was forced to undergo major shoulder surgery at the height of his youth athletic career and missed almost a year of vital training. It was lessons learned during his recovery that helped him power through the final COVID-tainted months of high school.
“The biggest thing for me was understanding,” says the member of the L.V. Rogers Secondary Class of 2020. “When I had my surgery, the hardest part was understanding that there is only so much I can do and some things are not in my control. I had to focus on what my body needed rather than what my ego needed. When COVID hit, it felt similar because I had to understand that I was not the only high school student going through this. We have it pretty good here. It’s scary and there are challenges, but you have to make the most of the cards you are dealt.”
A member of the L.V. Rogers Class of 2020, Nelson’s Stevie McCulloch is one of two recipients of the COVID-19 Resilience Award. The 17-year-old will begin his post-secondary studies in the Rural Pre-Medicine Program in the Fall Semester that starts in September.
McCulloch and fellow L.V. Rogers’ grad Hanna Rane are recipients of the COVID-19 Resilience Award that recognizes outstanding high school students who arrive to their chosen program with the spirit to succeed. A collaboration between School District #8 and Selkirk College, the awards are an important bridge for local students who choose to stay close to home to begin their post-secondary studies.
“Both Stevie and Hanna are terrific examples of young people who are determined to overcome difficulties in order to find success,” says Kelsey Baerg, Selkirk College’s Advancement Coordinator. “It’s an uncertain world and incoming students have been dealing with a lot of financial challenges brought on by lack of summer job opportunities and absence of a normal routine. Through this award and others that we provide on an annual basis with help from our supporters, Selkirk College is able to reduce the financial stress faced at the start of a post-secondary journey.”
From the Swimming Pool to the Open Water
A member of the Kootenay Swim Club, McCulloch began his love for competing in the water at a young age with the Nelson Neptunes Swim Club. By high school, he was provincially-ranked with times nearing national levels.
Just after swimming one of his best-ever sprint times as a 16-year-old, McCulloch was playing a fun game of water polo while mentoring some of the younger members of the swim club when he dislocated his shoulder. He continued to train through pain and win medals in competitions, but as he touched the wall after one of his victories could feel his shoulder bend painfully behind his head. At that point, McCulloch realized surgery and a long recovery was unavoidable.
“I’m competitive and want the best I can in everything that I do, so when you go from that to not being able to put your arms above your head it’s difficult,” he says of his post-surgery struggles. “Going from that high level to having to ask people for help, you don’t want to admit that it feels like a defeat. Those were the hardest moments that I have had so far in my life.”
As he climbed the ladder back to competition, the community he grew up in was right by his side. From parents to peers and coaches to health care professionals, he received support that helped him get back to a point where he could compete again. Just as he was getting ready to take part in his first competition since the surgery, the COVID-19 shutdown brought another sudden halt to his ambitions.
“Swimming has always been my escape, when school or anything else wasn’t going well it was the place I could go,” McCulloch says. “It helps free my mind and it slows down my thought process which has always been helpful for school, so the shutdown could not have happened a worse time. It wasn’t the same circumstance as my injury, but when COVID hit I knew I had the support of people around me.”
Undeterred, McCulloch threw himself into the final remote-learning months of high school. To keep himself in physical shape, he bought a wetsuit and joined the open water community who take long swims in the frigid West Arm of Kootenay Lake.
Finding the Right Choice at Selkirk College
A strong academic student, McCulloch had options when considering where to start his post-secondary journey. When it came time to decide where to begin his pursuit of a career in health care, he chose Selkirk College’s Rural Pre-Medicine Program.
“I feel so close to this community and a lot of that came from the support that I received during my injury,” he says. “When I was applying to multiple different schools, the response I received from Selkirk College felt different. It felt kind. It was an email, but it was heartfelt and it seemed like they were interested in me as a person. I quickly realized that I could attend school and have access to all this support I had growing up. I would get support at other schools, but would have to build that foundation that has been here since I was a little kid.”
McCulloch jumped at the chance to apply for the COVID-19 Resilience Award. Though he applied for several other financial awards, he took extra time to ensure that he communicated the value of community.
“It felt personal because it was my hometown I could really pour my heart into the essay part of the application,” he says. “When I got the email back to let me know I was successful, I wrote the biggest thank you card that I could. Not just because of the scholarship money, but simply applying for the award put it into perspective and affirmed that resilience is something to be proud of.”
As he gets set to begin his studies during this unusual time with the goal of eventually becoming a physician, McCulloch is already showing wisdom beyond his years as he prepares for life in the next normal.
“A lot of people think that stepping up is a grand gesture that will change the world, but we all step up in our own ways,” McCulloch says. “We need to understand that stepping up is small gestures, helping someone the best you can through kindness. If someone is having hard time, it can be as simple as asking the question: what’s wrong. Everyone is going through their own struggles, big and small, you just want to take time to look around to see how you can make it better in your own way.”