McGill University has created an opportunity to profile two student-athletes every week. In their "Home & Away Series" they interviewed Brianna Mendes.
Mendes, a 5-foot-3 distance runner on the McGill women's cross-country and track teams, who could've stayed home in Bermuda to complete her final year in the Desautels Faculty of management online but opted to return to Montreal this fall, where she is basically studying from her off-campus apartment.
"I came back (to Montreal from Bermuda) for the team because we thought that we would be able to train together and might still have some meets," said Mendes, a 21-year-old mathematics and finance senior who serves as captain of her cross-country squad. "I wanted to be here if that happened because the RSEQ (conference) wasn't going to announce their decision about the season until mid-September. I didn't want to be stuck at home if the season was going to go ahead."
It wasn't a total surprise that the schedule was canceled and it was kind of expected but at least she got to train as a group for the month of September before all team workouts were halted when the Quebec government declared Montreal as a red zone.
"We're kind of lucky with our sport in that we don't need much equipment or a large group to practice," Mendes said. "You can still get in a workout on your own or with one other person. Montreal's a good place to run on the mountain (Mount Royal) and it's nice to be here for the changing of the fall colors too."
But studying online has been a tough adjustment, even for a brilliant student that pulled off a near-perfect 3.96 grade-point average last year, which qualified her for Academic All-Canadian status and the Principal's Student-athlete Honor Roll.
On the athletic front, Mendes consistently scored points for McGill in all five of her cross-country meets last fall and helped the team capture the conference championship meet, held on the Plains of Abraham, near Quebec City. It marked the team's first league banner since 2016.
"Definitely the highlight of my career here was winning the RSEQ championship. It was one of our best races as a team and we only won by three points. It showed how every person on the team counted, even if they didn't score. We pushed each other in training and in the race. We did that together and when I think of it now, I still get excited. We had pretty high expectations, set a lofty goal, and then achieved it, which was great."
Despite keeping her nose in the books and competing in varsity sports year-round, Mendes still finds time to volunteer with McGill Students for UN Women, a group that engages students through advocacy and fundraising. The organization raises awareness through student-led speaker panels and workshops about gender-based global issues such as violence against women and girls. They support local charities in Montreal through volunteer initiatives and fundraising programs.
"We raise money for charities like Women on the Rise or Dans la Rue - organizations that help women's shelters and provide food for homeless youth," she explained. "So that was cool too because I got to see a different side of Montreal, kind of away from the school bubble. That's definitely a good way to engage with the community and to meet people that I would've never met otherwise."
Among her fond memories, aside from winning the cross-country title, Mendes says that the team had wonderful potluck dinners.
"One was especially memorable. We had really nice food and everyone contributed. I just remember it being a great night. All the girls on the team were there and we had some good discussion about our goals for the team and what everybody was going through on their own and it was like a special bonding experience. When I look back, it will remain one of my favorite experiences at McGill, that team and those friendships."