(Sydney, NS) - All-Time leading AUS goal scorer, two-time AUS Most Valuable Player, three-time U Sports All-Canadian, AUS Rookie of the Year, five-time Academic All-Canadian, two-time CBU female athlete of the year and the first-ever CBU student-athlete to receive the James Bayer Memorial Scholarship. Add to that, two AUS title wins and countless other individual and team accolades. To call Karolyne MacDonell, (formerly Blain) M.D, a Caper legend would be an understatement of the highest order. Now returning to the island in order to complete her medical residency, MacDonell is sure to be welcomed back by members of the community and fans alike.
After graduating from Cape Breton University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science Degree, MacDonell continued to build on her exceptional list of accomplishments, most recently by graduating from medical school at the University of Ottawa. Although this was indeed a life-changing achievement, MacDonell, along with millions of other students across the world, was forced to celebrate her graduation without the support of those closest to her. Despite this disappointment and the uncertainty that has been hanging over the medical world for the last few months, the Sudbury (ON) native remains reflective and grateful for silver linings.
"I am doing well now but the past few months have been tumultuous and stressful; I've experienced many highs and lows. My graduation from medical school was canceled, a momentous occasion I didn't get to celebrate with my friends and family, I didn't get to say goodbye to my friends from medical school before we all parted ways for residency. On the other hand, my partner and I purchased our first home in Cape Breton, we got to move back closer to his family and he also landed a dream job here. Through it all, I try to remind myself that as long as my loved ones are healthy and well, I am happy."
For those unfamiliar with MacDonell's academic aptitude whilst at CBU, the former number 13 managed to maintain a grade average of above 90%, an incredible achievement considering the intensive schedule of a student-athlete. Not satisfied with an almost perfect academic record though, MacDonell recognized at the earliest stages of her studies that medical faculties are not only looking for knowledgeable candidates (this is a pre-cursor of course,) they are looking for people who have demonstrated the ability to maintain a well-rounded work-life balance.
"Certainly, academic success is very important to be granted an interview and admission to medical school, but many medical faculties are now looking for well-rounded individuals to become future physicians. They want to see that you can balance the demands of academics with other commitments. As such, they consider many other factors such as volunteering, employment, extracurricular activities, awards, and achievements as well as research experience."
Taking the idea of extracurricular activities almost to the extreme during her time at CBU, MacDonell demonstrated her altruism by taking on a dizzying number of extra responsibilities on top of her already hectic schedule.
"For me, soccer was obviously a very prominent feature on my CV, but I also worked during the summer and at times during the school year. As of my 2nd year of undergrad at CBU I was a teacher's assistant responsible for marking assignments, I worked at the CBU dome. I also tried as much as possible and when my schedule would allow it, to volunteer for various events in the CBRM. Some of this included coaching soccer, volunteering for Youth in Motion, Soccer in the Community amongst others."
For a student-athlete so embedded in their local community, the subsequent move to Ottawa and away from varsity sports in 2015 quickly became a source of discontent for MacDonell who is hoping to rediscover that connection upon her return to Cape Breton.
"When I graduated from Cape Breton University, I had this mindset of leaving soccer behind and focusing solely on studying medicine. When I got to Ottawa, I felt lost without being involved in soccer as it's been a constant in my life since the age of 4-5. I didn't realize how much it contributed to part of my identity. I started to play intramurals and a competitive team in Ottawa to fill that void but I certainly missed the skill and competition level of varsity athletics. When I was considering where I wanted to go for residency in my last year of medical school, the opportunity to be back in Cape Breton and be surrounded by the varsity athletics was influential in my decision to move back."
Being surrounded by highly motivated varsity athletes again is an attractive proposition for MacDonell, who admitted to missing the competitive nature of university sport, but coaching those players is another prospect altogether. With her extensive playing and coaching experience within the Cape Breton community, it's not much of a stretch to imagine the former Caper utilizing her skillset as a member of the CBU women's soccer coaching staff.
"Coaching is something that I've considered. I don't think being a successful player inherently makes you qualified to be a successful coach. If I do choose to pursue coaching, I certainly want to be prepared to be the best coach that I can be. There are some big shoes to fill and I have a lot to learn to be as qualified as the coaching staff that is currently at the helm of the women's program."
Whether or not the opportunity to coach does materialize, MacDonell has already set her sights on yet another area of expertise that could open a pathway to varsity athletics- sports medicine.
"I find myself currently in a very fortunate position where I can combine two of my passions. After I am finished my residency in Family Medicine, I have the option of sub-specializing in ''sports medicine''. That's an option I am considering at this point in time, but I will see how the next 2 years go before I make any decisions. If CBU is considering hiring a physician for their teams, John Ryan can be in touch in 2-3 years. Kidding, not kidding!"
So, regardless of whether she will be coaching, practicing sports medicine, or watching from the side-lines, MacDonell envisions herself in Cape Breton for the foreseeable future at least and although she won't be the one leading CBU to glory on the field this time, her presence, influence, and work ethic will surely be welcomed back with open arms by everyone connected to Cape Breton Island.
"I am just starting my residency in family medicine in Cape Breton so I will certainly be here for the next 2 years. I do see myself staying here after completing residency. For me specifically, Cape Breton holds a special place in my heart because it was where I grew and matured a lot as a person: I moved away from home at the age of 18, became more independent, got to study sciences with the goal of pursuing my lifelong dream of becoming a physician all while getting to play varsity soccer, one of my other passions. This is also where I met my significant other, now husband, so that certainly adds to the affinity for this island. Having him and his family here certainly made this feel that I was at home away from home."