“Sometimes it's the littlest thing that helps you step out of your comfort zone."
Perhaps the most surprising thing Diane Bergeron says about her degree from Royal Roads University is that it gave her a passion for high endurance sports.
You name it, the 53-year-old seems to have done it. Triathlons. The Iron Man. Dragon Boat racing. In the course of a phone conversation from her home in Ottawa, she casually mentions rappelling down a building and organizing a relay running team for blind athletes, like herself.
Not that she isn't pleased that her Master of Arts in Leadership Studies took her from being a mid-level administrator to a role as executive director of strategic relations and engagement for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. But she says her experience with Royal Roads gave her much more than a career boost.
"It helped me uncover an adventurous streak," she says, adding that it also taught her something else surprising. "Sometimes it's the littlest thing that helps you step out of your comfort zone."
Bergeron recalls that she was attending one of the two three-week residencies her MA required and walking across campus to the beach with friends. She let her service dog Max off his leash for a romp and found that she also wanted to do something she hadn't done in years: run.
"It was a real 'the hills are alive with the sound of music' moment," she says. She found herself spinning around in the sunshine, feeling its warmth on her face, and suddenly she had the urge to sprint. One thing led to another and before long she found herself running races that left her bloodied and in pain. (She swears it's a lot of fun.)
Looking back, Bergeron marvels at everything she might have missed if she had let one little thing like the cost of school stop her.
Eight years ago, she was in her mid-40s, married with two young teens, and feeling stalled in her career. The management jobs that interested her were going to people with master's degrees, but she couldn't imagine returning to school.
The competing demands on her time were daunting enough, but then there was her age. And the cost. Bergeron requires a guide dog, and needs access to special books.
But as she waivered, she found she was eligible for student awards and scholarships (and she received three.) That one thing made all the difference.
Which isn't to say it was easy for her to graduate on time, with distinction. For two years, Bergeron began her days at 4:30 a.m. to squeeze in studying before heading to her full-time job. And she worked nights and weekends on her degree, as her children learned to make dinner.
It would be easy to describe Bergeron as exceptional, but she is the first to say that isn't true: her theory is that the opportunity those awards and scholarships gave her played a big part.
"There are a lot of exceptional people out there who can't go on to reach the peak of their possibilities because they don't have money," Bergeron says. "And that's a shame: simply because of financial constraints that they can't reach their potential."