Nichol's a smash

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:05 PM ET

All the way down in Barbados, Helen Nichol was making a racket in Calgary. And she didn't even know it.

While the badminton player was having a great time in the Caribbean late last month with doubles partner Charmaine Reid, the Mount Royal Cougars were honouring one of its star players at the Red and White Club.

It wasn't until after Nichol and Reid won gold in a Pan-American championship event Nichol learned she was co-winner of the Cougars female athlete of the year award.

For Nichol, who also picked up a silver with mixed doubles partner Philippe Bourret, the award capped off a great month.

"I found out when I received e-mails of congratulations," said Nichol, a science student at Mount Royal. "It was really rewarding to come home to it. I was kind of saddened I wasn't there for the ceremony."

Since Nichol and Reid went to the Athens Olympics in August, the 24-year-old has juggled school and badminton.

After she returned from Barbados, Nichol has crammed the balance of the semester's work into a two-week period.

Before she leaves for Peru Wednesday for another two more Pan-American tournaments, Nichol will have to write her final exams. She's doing this while meeting Reid for a couple of hours practice every day at the Glencoe Club.

"There's never a time when I don't have a textbook with me," Nichol said. "I always have some notes to read on the plane and in the hotel.

"It's difficult to put in the time because we're practising or competing each day. We have a daily routine when we're in tournament mode. It's nice to relax and be able to get away from badminton for a minute and absorb the schoolwork for a while."

The 2004-05 ACAC season was a memor-able one for Nichol, as well. She won both the ACAC and CCAA titles in women's doubles and helped Alberta to team gold at the national championship.

But when she wasn't training with the Cougars, she was working with Reid as they try to qualify for the world championships at Anaheim's Arrowhead Pond in August. It won't get any easier after that as Nichol plans to transfer to the U of C to finish her bachelor of science degree.

"All my profs at Mount Royal have been great. I've talked with them all before I went on this thing," she said. "They were more than happy to let me write the exams early.

"I had taken a year and a half off to qualify and commit to my Olympic dream. I always wanted to get back into my education and Mount Royal is a good place to do that."

At every international tournament, Nichol and Reid earn points towards their world rankings. With the win in Barbados, they collected 300 points, which is almost triple what they average per event.

Reid also claimed singles gold by beating fellow Canadian Anna Rice, so the team is hitting its stride in good time to perform well at the worlds. Reid said she and Nichol set a goal of winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games next March in Melbourne, Australia.

"I don't think we've ever been playing this well before," Reid said. "But we can still get better, which is really fun and exciting."

After losing in the Round of 32 at Athens, the duo will take some time before deciding about pursuing Beijing. And Nichol will hopefully not being a starving student by then.

"I'm still paying my last journey off," Nichol said. "I would love to do another Olympics but, unfortunately, as a Canadian athlete, it's not just your talent or drive, there's other factors that play into it."


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