Stephanie Aldea: The double life of a MSIR grad student and Olympic hopeful
Run, lift, class, lift, eat and sleep. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
That’s a generic sample of a day in the life of Stephanie Aldea, second-year MSIR (Master of Science in Human Resources and Industrial Relations) student from Windsor, Ontario. She is currently journeying to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Canadian Olympic Track & Field Team.
Aldea moved to the United States from Canada when she was 19 years old to study at the University of Houston while competing on a NCAA Division I cross-country/track and field scholarship. She transferred to West Virginia University in 2010 to challenge herself more academically and athletically, and chose to study at the College of Business and Economics. She competed on both the Women’s Track and Field team and the Cross Country team, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in economics in 2013.
Aldea is a firm believer in balancing her education with her athletic career, having done so throughout her twenties.
“Being an MSIR student while training for the Olympic trials is great because class does really break up my running. It forces me to balance, and I think balance is really important in life whether you’re a professional athlete, a mother, a banker, whatever you may be,” Aldea said. “I think if I didn’t have school, my running would consume me, and I don’t think that’s healthy. You see it happen with so many runners, where it just becomes an obsession since we do it so much.
“It’s ideal for me, because when we attend class, we wear professional dress – so it’s a nice break from my running shoes. Not only that, but when I’m with my classmates, I don’t talk about my training or ever bring it up in a conversation, because it’s just not something I want to do. I love having that balance of leaving my training at home and being a normal graduate student at B&E.”
“Normal” might not be the first term that comes to mind when describing a student who, at the peak of her Olympic trials training this fall, will run 90 miles a week while hitting the gym and lifting weights on the side.
Aldea will do this for months in preparation to compete in races all over the U.S. in the spring, leading up to the Canadian Olympic Trials in June.
“I wake up in the morning, do my run, go to class and then usually have a second workout or run at night,” she said. “I’ve lived a very robotic lifestyle throughout my twenties, just school and running, which leaves little room for having a social life or taking fun trips on spring break. But this is my dream, and I’ve made my dream a huge priority since I set my eyes on it.”
Currently, Aldea’s personal record in the mile run is 4:37.02, and she runs a 5k (3.2 miles) in under 16 minutes.
“I want to capitalize on the opportunity in front of me – I don’t want to look back when I’m older and tell my kids that I had this really big goal that I didn’t pursue because it was too hard. I want to tell them that, you know, your mom had this really big dream of being an Olympian, and no matter how hard it was, she never gave up until she made it. That’s what I really want.”
Aldea’s background in economics isn’t typical for the average student enrolled in the MSIR program, but her aptitude for data analytics and knowledge of business efficiency makes for something different that she can bring to class discussions.
“I really like MSIR; we have great faculty and an amazing alumni network that really helps us prepare for the transition from academic life to the professional business world,” Aldea said. “We are all engaged and really embracing what the program can do for us, and it makes it fun.”
While a career in human resources wasn’t something she originally dreamt of during her undergraduate studies, a presentation introducing the MSIR program, given by Dr. Jeff Houghton in her last semester before graduation, was enough to plant the seed for her.
“I had originally considered getting an MBA, but the more I thought about MSIR after Dr. Houghton’s presentation, the more I was attracted to it, and looked into it. I went with my gut, which is what I usually do in life, and applied.
“I think the program here is really special – there aren’t many masters programs that offer what our MSIR program offers, and it is really distinguished from the rest.”
Aldea accepted an internship this past summer at Synchrony Financial in Kettering, Ohio, where she got to put her newfound skills and education in HR to the test. She was able to work a full 40+ hour week while maintaining her training, thanks to the flexibility that the company provided.
Should Aldea secure a place in the top three at the Canadian Olympic Trials in June, she plans to compete in races throughout Europe leading up to the Summer Olympics in August, with hopes of starting a job in human resources in September.
“I would love to find a job at a company, not necessarily based on money, location or size, but based on the people, the culture, the company’s values and how connected I feel to who I would be working with. Happiness complements success, and I am eager to apply my MSIR skillset that I have developed throughout my time here. I really need to be somewhere where I can develop as a person and be happy. Being happy is number one, absolutely – you have to be happy.”