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McGill Reporter
April 6, 2000 - Volume 32 Number 14
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Sarah Ali-Khan: The art of running

Sarah Ali-Khan
PHOTO: OWEN EGAN

In one of the most memorable scenes from the baseball movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis, the veteran catcher, explains to the young star Nuke LaLoosh the fundamental principle of any sports interview: "You have to know your clichés; they're your friends." If the past year's success continues for McGill track team most valuable player Sarah Ali-Khan, she will have to do a lot of interviews—so she had better become good friends with those clichés.

Having been voted a Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union (CIAU) All-Canadian in both track and field and cross country, as well as winning the distinction of Quebec conference female athlete of the year in both sports, the gifted 26-year-old is getting used to a lot of attention.

Originally a native of Baie d'Urfé, Quebec, Ali-Khan moved to her hometown, Christchurch, New Zealand, at the age of three. Returning to Canada to pursue graduate work in pharmacology in 1997, she was an instant track and field success. In spite of the fact that she "didn't used to have a lot of confidence as a runner," she earned CIAU All-Canadian status in her first year on the McGill track team.

But as she explains over a cup of herbal tea, running is not entirely about winning and losing. "I don't like losing," she admits—quickly qualifying her remark by adding that this is only "as long as I know that I've done the best that I can. I'd be annoyed [with myself] if I knew that I could have done better; if you know that physically you can do something and mentally you don't do it, it's disappointing."

Rather than thinking of running as a competition with others, Ali-Khan prefers to view it in more artistic or even therapeutic terms, as "an expression of the self. It's a spiritual thing," she says. "You express yourself running; you lose yourself when you're running; you forget about yourself—you become 100 percent soul."

Keenly aware of the spiritual or meditative state that is so important to her in her running, she is quick to point out that her success as a runner is largely dependent upon her mental approach to a race. Given that every athlete competing at a high level is physically gifted, she reasons, the winner is usually determined by her mental toughness. As she says, "I know sometimes that I could have done better, but it's the mental part that holds me back; a huge part of running is believing that you can do it. That's one thing I've learned through running that I've been able to apply to the rest of my life: once you believe you can do it, you can."

Earl Zukerman, a communications officer in McGill's athletics department, has been following Ali-Khan's track career since she came to the University. Noting that she did not have "a long background in competitive running" before her days at McGill, Zukerman attributes her astounding collegiate success to a "natural gift. She does everything almost effortlessly," he notes. "Everything she touches has been golden at McGill."

So what's next for the talented young athlete?

The prospect of vying for a spot on the national team and competing at the Olympics has been mentioned by friends and coaches, but Ali-Khan has never considered it a realistic possibility. "I've never thought about the Olympics," she says, adding with typical modesty, that "I don't really think I'm that good."

As an athlete who has derived a great deal of success from the realization that the first pre-condition for victory in sport, as in life, is the belief that "you can do it," Ali-Khan might be wise to take her own advice. Perhaps a spot on the national team or the Olympic team is possible.

If that were to happen, Ali-Khan would really have to learn her clichés.

Separatism has already taken place in their minds — they've already turned their backs on Canada. So the issue has no urgency for them.

Political Science Professor Alain Gagnon speaking to the Washington Post Foreign Service on the lack of support for separatism among young Quebecers.

Distinctive drinkers

Quebecers have a different attitude towards alcohol than in the rest of Canada, and that could explain why students from la belle province are more likely to drink but less likely to binge, according to a national study of alcohol use among university students.

The Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Université de Montréal conducted a national survey in the fall of 1998 at 16 universities across Canada. They found that Quebec institutions had the highest percentage of drinkers, but these students also reported the lowest weekly volume. Another notable difference researchers found was the reason for drinking. "Quebecers have a different relationship with alcohol," says Andrée Demers, sociology professor and director of the Health and Prevention Social Research Group at the Université de Montréal.

Among survey respondents, 32.5 percent of Quebecers said they drank for the taste and 28.7 percent to celebrate, compared with 21.1percent and 21.2 percent for the rest of Canada. Students in the rest of Canada were more likely to have used alcohol to get drunk (8.2 percent versus 4.9 percent for Quebecers) and because of peer pressure (21.9 percent versus 10.6 percent for Quebecers).

Demers notes that Quebecers drink more wine and less spirits but the same amount of beer as their peers in the rest of Canada. "Our students are more likely to use alcohol to complement a meal or to celebrate and less likely to drink to be sociable."

She also points out that Quebecers have had a long tradition of consuming alcohol for the taste. "We mustn't forget that we didn't have prohibition in Quebec during the 1920s when it existed in the rest of Canada."

If the mother has the means — the monetary support, the family support — that would provide her with life at sea level during gestation, it would be a tremendous improvement.

Professor of Physiology Jacopo Mortolo commenting to Reuters Health on the health effects on Peruvian babies born at high altitudes, which include low birth weight, heart and lung problems and blood disorders.

Studying Leisure

Want to keep homeless people healthy? Try paying them.

Studying how we play could seem to take some of the fun out of how we use our leisure time. But that doesn't deter members of the Academy for Leisure Sciences.

Founded in 1980, this honorary organization brings together more than 80 scholars. To be elected, members have to have made significant, internationally-recognized contributions to the field over a 10-year period.

The Academy produces discussion papers on a variety of topics. One of the most frequently cited, The Problem of Free Time: It's Not What You Think, criticizes the way people seem to be squandering their free time watching TV or wandering around in local shopping malls. The State of Children's Play takes a dim view of parents' tendency to overly structure their children's free time.

Members also present papers at their annual meeting. "It's a nice opportunity to be recognized in front of a group of active scholars," says Roger C. Mannell, professor in the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at the University of Waterloo.

The Academy's Future Scholars Program funds young scholars, usually masters students planning to continue on to a PhD, to attend the organization's annual meeting. "It's our way of trying to encourage them and we mentor them," Mannell explains.

Members do make time for a bit of fun at their meetings. "We celebrate the induction of new members, usually over dinner or a nice lunch," he says. "We try to make it as leisurely and enjoyable as possible." Being a member of this academy "is not just about career contributions, but also fellowship."

The Academy for Leisure Science's website is www.eas.ualberta.ca/elj/als/als1.html.

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