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October 22, 2020

Dana Garland: Harnessing her love of sports to live a healthy life and pursue her dream career


Dana is a cheerleader, a cross country runner, and a soon-to-be-paramedic. In this interview she shares tips on balancing sports and school, and how sports has helped her pursue her dream career and live a healthy lifestyle. 

Dana is a dedicated learner and multi-sport athlete. While currently a second-year paramedic student at Fleming College, this is her third college diploma.  She has a pre-health diploma from Georgian College, and fitness and health promotion from Humber College already under her belt. Dana was on the cross-country team at Fleming last year and would have been again this year if not for the Covid-19 pandemic. She's also a cheerleader. Until recently she cheered with a team called Champions Cheer Gym, but recently switched to a team out of Toronto called Cheer Sport Sharks.



Dana the Sport-Lover

Growing up Dana was interested in all kinds of sports; she was always pretty active and tried to as many sports as possible in school all while still maintaining good grades and a healthy social life. Now, in addition to cheerleading and cross-country, Dana likes to run for fun on the side. She has a passion for racing in half marathons and marathons, and in the winter, she likes to snowboard and cross-country ski.


What was your experience with sport growing up? I know you said you tried as many sports as you could during high school, but did you have the opportunity to try everything that interested you or is there something you wish you’d had the opportunity to try?

In high school I was active in rugby, cross-country skiing, cross-country running, gymnastics (I wasn’t very good, but it was fun - laughs), cheerleading, soccer, and figure skating. I feel like I’m missing something but that’s everything I can think of. I kind of wish I did track and field. In elementary school I was always really good at high jump because I’m so tall, so I wish I’d followed through with that. I would have liked to have tried hurdles, but you can’t do everything!

Well it seems like you certainly tried! You have lots of experience being both on teams and a solo athlete, so what’s your favourite thing about being a solo athlete?

I don’t have to depend on anybody else, which sounds terrible (laughs) but a team is only as strong as it’s weakest member. I like that I can push myself really hard in solo sports. I push myself to my absolute physical limits because I want to be the best, but you can’t always ask or force other people to match that level of intensity. When you’re on a team you can be as motivational as you want, but if your team members don’t want it as bad as you do, or can’t physically perform the same way, it can be a little frustrating if you don’t do as well.

So what is your favourite thing about playing on a team?

I’m a people person. I like being around other people and working together and supporting each other. It’s nice when you all have the same goal because when we win or hit a routine really well, or play a great game we can celebrate together. Like in cheerleading when we win a competition we all get to celebrate together, whereas in cross country skiing, I ski by myself, which is also rewarding, but there isn’t the same kind of community.




How did you get into cheerleading?

I started when I was 14 years old. My friend tried out for the team and she got me to join. I had to tryout and then I made the team too.

How prestigious is your Toronto team?

My Toronto team is called Cheer Sport Sharks and is a very well-known gym with the seven gyms around Ontario. We have one of the best teams that has won the biggest cheerleading competition called “worlds” three times. I am on a lower level team but hope to move up levels next year.

Is there a league? I know you do competitions but is there an overarching authority or just different competitions?

There are different levels to compete in from level one to level seven being the highest. I'm currently competing level four. There are two different associations that we compete with: Ontario Cheerleading Federation and Canadian Cheer Evolution.

How many times have you competed at nationals?

I have competed at nationals five times. We would have been going again this year for year six if it wasn’t for Covid.

Have you ever competed internationally?

No not yet! Hopefully once I’m on a higher-level team next year I will be able to.

Has your team won any big titles?

I'm new to this team this year, so I’m not sure but Cheer Sport Sharks is one of the best gyms in Ontario, so I hope that we will win big titles once we start competing again. My previous team won first place at the Winterfest competition last year and we participated at Nationals, but we didn’t win.



What positions are there? What position do you hold?

I am a base. There are three positions:

  • flyers, which are the people that go in the air 
  • bases, the people who lift the flyers  
  • thirds which are the people at the back of the stunt helping to lift the stunt up.

There is a big stereotype around cheerleading that girls have to be tiny and skinny to be successful. Is there any truth to that or can anyone participate?

It depends on what team you want to be on, you don’t have to be tiny - I’m 5’10”. Typically flyers are the smallest, because they’re getting tossed in the air. For everyone else though, what’s most important is that you’re strong so you don’t trop your teammates. And cheering is a pretty high intensity sport that has a lot of cardio, so it helps to be in shape.

If you want to be on a super high-level team that goes to worlds, you have to be really good and have lots of experience. But if you just want to compete or cheer for fun there are lots of recreational or lower level competitive teams you can be on that anyone can join.  You can learn and practice together and it’s a really fun way to get active and get your heart pumping. If you’re interested in joining just check out your local gym, get in touch with the coach, and see if you can sit in on a practice and get a feel for it.


Check out our Cheerleading page to find a gym and resources in your community.


Sports in College

Most recently you’ve been a cheerleader, and a cross country runner with your college, right? What were the tryout processes like for college sports versus community sports? Was it difficult?

My cheerleading last year wasn’t with the college, is was a separate organisation, through a gymnastics gym. So for that, I already knew someone on the team, and I just spoke with the coach and she asked me to come out for one night so she could evaluate my skills, and my stunting abilities. When I moved to the Toronto gym, the team had already been practicing together throughout the summer, so when I tried out it was just me. The coach asked me to show her my jumps and dance skills, and apparently, she thought I’d be a good fit.

As for cross country, it isn’t very competitive at my school, so I didn’t really have to try out, I just started practicing with the team.



You mentioned you’ve been to three different colleges, so for those other programs were you ever part of a collegiate team?

No, I really wanted to be a part of a collegiate team when I went to Humber but I drove 2 hours to and from school almost every day so I didn’t really have time to do school work and practice a sport like that. I also carpooled with someone else so I didn’t have time. I look back at it now and I wish I had because Humber’s cross-country team is really good.

So how do you balance cheerleading in Toronto with going to school in Peterborough? It’s an hour and a half drive, right? And that’s on top of the time commitment that you have for practicing with your team.

Yeah it is a bit of a drive but I just make sure I have my assignments done before I go to practice and if I need to do something for that night, I do it on the way and my friend will drive. It’s only a few days a week as opposed to every day.

Being on a sports team is a big time commitment, and you’re on two, so how do you juggle being on sports teams and doing classes and clinicals/ ride-along shifts?

So unlike when I was going to Humber, I now live 2 minutes away from Fleming College. I can walk to school, so I don’t really have a big school commute time anymore which has really freed up a lot of time. When I was doing cross-country at Fleming, we had formal practice every Tuesday and Thursday, and the other days we were supposed to run on our own. Our coach would give us a workout plan per week, and we were supposed to follow that plan. There was usually a long run, a short run, then intervals in the plan.  When we weren’t at practice, we could do our runs whenever was convenient for us, before or after school, or between classes. I would always just make sure that school came first, and then when I got home, running would just take my mind off of it, and just help me de-stress a little bit.

So you used it as a kind of self-care method?

Yeah, exactly. And it’s also fun because I am very competitive, so then when we did have races, I would always push myself to be faster than when I was running at home.


Check out our page on Running to get more tips and resources on how to get started.


Life in a Pandemic

With the Covid-19 pandemic are you still able to do any of the sports you usually do?

I’m still cheerleading, even though it’s in Toronto, which is kind of a major Covid hub. We’re still allowed to practice, we just have to wear masks the entire time and we can’t practice any of our stunts. We know all of our stunts, but we’re not physically allowed to do them, or really touch each other at all, because we’re trying to be as safe as possible. So, we just practice our dances, jumps, and tumbling. The OCF (Ontario Cheerleading Federation) is trying to get approval from Doug Ford to start stunting again, because Ontario is the only province whose teams aren’t right now. And all of the states in the USA are stunting as well. This doesn’t put us in a good position if we are eventually given the green light for competitions. As for running or any sports with the college, they’ve all been cancelled for fall and winter terms, which has been really tough for anyone who is studying on a sports scholarship.


How are you keeping active in the meantime?

Well I still run and go to the gym. I have to keep fit for my paramedics program because we have a lift test every year that we have to pass in order to move on in the program. For the next one I have to be able to lift 220lbs. I practice for that by lifting weights at the gym. I go about 4 times a week and I keep my cardio up by walking dogs, which is my side business while I’m studying. I walk two dogs named Summer and Wally. I walk Summer probably 5km a day and Wally is just a puppy, so we don’t go very far, but playing with him certainly burns some calories.



What kinds of things are you doing to maintain your mental health at school? I know the restrictions have made socialising a lot more difficult, and without your sports you must have a lot more free time?

I actually don’t (laughs). I mean I do, but I don’t. I still spend time with my friends Molly and Jessie. We’ve been in the same bubble since the beginning so we still hang out, we go to Molly’s house to de-stress. We bake all the time, go for walks and watch movies. Walking dogs is actually very therapeutic! (laughs) I take time for myself, like if I’m tired, I take a nap. I don’t force myself to keep working, and stress myself out even more. I find school becomes a lot easier once I’ve taken some time to calm down.

Do you have any tips for effectively managing your time and making sure everything gets done?

Go through all of your course outlines, put everything on a calendar, plan out time to work and time to relax, and make sure you meet deadlines. Set aside time on weekends to do assignments and don’t leave things until the last minute!


Check out this article by the Mayo Clinic for more tips on how to work exercise into a busy schedule: Fitting in Fitness


Paramedicine and Sport

You’re studying to be a paramedic, right? Can you tell us a little bit about what that’s been like in the midst of a pandemic?

We are just doing online learning, so all of our classes are at the same scheduled times. We have to wear our uniforms like we normally would and be on camera for the entire time. We have our lab classes and lecture classes. For our lecture classes our teachers just talk us through the lessons. For our lab classes it’s supposed to be as hands on as possible so we’re practicing how to do IV starts and intermuscular and subcutaneous injections, we practice them on fruits or makeup sponges. We have lab kits that are full of fake medicine so we can practice the different ways to administer them, like epinephrine and Narcan and such, but it’s all just saline basically. We have to practice taking them out of the vial and making sure there are no air bubbles or anything and then inject them.

Why did you choose to become a paramedic?

It’s always been an interest for me but when I first graduated high school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I went into Fitness and Health at Humber College.  Then I wanted to bridge over to kinesiology, and I actually got accepted to the University of Guelph-Humber. I was supposed to start there once I graduated from Fitness and Health in 2018 but when I finished I decided not to pursue that path. I knew I wanted to do something health-related in the medical field, but I wasn’t sure if I should be a nurse or a paramedic. I ended up going to Georgian College for pre-health to keep my knowledge up while I made up my mind, and it was mostly science and math courses to get my grades up. While I was in high school I took all university classes and all I needed was college level, so my year at Georgian really helped to boost my grades so I could get into a really good school when I finally decided what I was going to do. While there I did a career project on Paramedicine and decided that’s what I wanted to do. So then I applied to 5 different colleges and chose Fleming, because Fleming grads have the highest passing rates for the AEMCA (the final test we have to take before we can work as paramedics), so it’s a really great course.



What kind of training do you have to do as part of your Paramedics course? You said it’s very physical and there’s a lift test?

Yeah, we do a lift test every year. Last year the lift test was 180lbs, and you have to lift a stretcher up and down the stairs with the weight on it, you have to take a stair chair, so your patient sits on the chair, and you have to walk up and down two flights of stairs. We use mannequins so everyone is carrying the same amount. We also do backboards; we have to walk 50m holding a backboard that’s weighted. Last year the weight was 180lbs but this year it’s 220lbs. And the lift test is done during week 9.

Is that your last lift test, or will you have another one before the end of the program?

That’s it, 220lbs is supposedly the average weight of a Canadian, so that’s where that number comes from.

You’re in school to be a paramedic now. How has your love of sports helped you pursue the career you want?

My love of sports has kept me pretty active. This job is pretty physically demanding, most stretchers now are automatic, but you’re always having to carry patients on a backboard or up and down stairs, so it’s important to keep physically fit.

Sports have taught me self-discipline, which is really important skill for anyone but especially as a paramedic. Playing team sports has taught me how to get along with everyone, in this line of work you’re likely to be hired on part time before being hired on full time, so you’re always going to be working with different partners so you have to be able to get along with all kinds of different people.

As a team player, even if you aren’t someone’s biggest fan, you still have to learn to work together and put aside your differences for the good of the team, or in this case, the good of the patient.



I heard that being a paramedic is a very male-dominated field. Have you found that to be true? How have you found the working environment as a young woman?

We actually have more women in my class than men. All of my teachers are working paramedics and the ratio of men to women is pretty much 50/50. For the incoming students, I’m a student mentor so I get to interact with them fairly often, and I think there are only 5 guys out of the 50 students in their year. So, this year was a lot of girls!

And you’ve been doing clinicals in the hospital too. How has that been? What’s the work environment like?

I actually really love working in the hospital. I’m not sure if it’s just because I get to work with patients or if it’s the actual work, but it’s my favourite thing about the program so far. Nurses are very busy, and at least in my experience, tend to be a bit cold towards students. I just totally give myself to them and do whatever they need even if it isn’t really in our scope of practice, like bathing a patient. A paramedic would never bathe a patient but if the nurse needs it done I do it, and I learn so much. Most patients are super understanding and willing to help us because they know we’re learning. I haven’t had a rude patient yet, so that’s really encouraging. A lot of them want us to have every opportunity to learn because if they ever call a paramedic, they want us to know what we’re doing! (laughs)



In your profession, you’ll probably see some pretty disturbing things, and perhaps you already have, what kind of mental health support is there for paramedics or paramedics in training?

Based off of what I’ve heard from last year’s graduates, because most of them have jobs already, there are a couple different resources for paramedics. I’m taking a class this year about crisis intervention and recognising mental health issues, so I’m sure they will touch more on it in that class. For example my friend had a really rough week a little while ago where he had to go to several traumatic calls in a single week in Durham region. So when they go to tough calls like that they always have a debriefing afterwards where they talk about it, and if anyone ever needs help  there’s counselling that you can get. If you don’t want the counselling provided  you can go and find your own and you’ll be reimbursed. My teachers say that if there’s ever something that’s bothering them and they’re on their way to a call,  they can always talk to their partner because they're sitting side by side. Overall, there’s always someone to talk to if you need it.



Benefits of an Active Lifestyle

Do you think participating in sports from a young age helped you in other areas of your life too? For example, mental health, self-regulation, discipline etc.?

Absolutely! Time management, self-motivation, teamwork, quick reflexes, and stress management are all great skills I learned from participating in sports.

In your opinion how important is participating in solo or team sports for living a healthy active lifestyle?

I’d say its pretty important. Even if you’re not racing or competing it’s important for yourself, your physical health, and your mental health. Team sports are great for socialising and getting to know people, especially if you’re in a new area. Last year when I moved here I didn’t know anyone. Now I have friends from my cheerleading teams, I still talk to people from my cross-country team, and I’m still friends with my cross-country coach, who is such a great person. It’s a great way to make connections, and you’re staying healthy at the same time. It’s such a great stress reliever!

What would you say to a young woman thinking about going into your field, or perhaps any physically demanding profession, that is feeling like it might be too hard?

I would say do it! This program is super tough, super busy, and you always have to be on top of your game, but it's so rewarding. I mean I’m not even working in the field yet, but even just in my hospital clinicals, my patients are so grateful and I’m just a student. It’s humbling, but I’m sure it’s going to be a super rewarding career. 

"Honestly if you want to do something, whether it’s in sport, your career, or just in life, if you set your mind to it there is no limit to what you can do."



If you were to say something to a young person thinking about starting college or university, interested in starting a sport or joining a team but worried about the financial or time commitment, would you recommend participating in sports while studying?

It is tough to do both school and sports, but college sports are so different from High school sports. For me almost everything was paid for, you get everything you need, and your hotels are paid for by the school. You definitely have to prioritise your time though. I got an award last year actually for being an honours student while being on a varsity team, but honestly time management is everything!

Cross country season is September to November, so the timeline is really condensed. We had meets almost every weekend in October, so it is a big commitment, but it’s a lot of fun and there’s lots of time for team bonding. The environment is really great too, everyone wants to be there and its just such a great way to make friends. Your team becomes a great support system. So, I would say go for it it’s definitely possible. Try new things! And the great thing is if you don’t like it you can always try something else.

SeeWhatSheCanDo is all about inspiring women to try new things and get out and get active. Is there anybody in your life that really inspires you, either in your sports journey or just in life in general?

My parents inspire me because they’re both just rally hard workers. They always work for what they want, so that’s always given me motivation to work for what I want. Sports wise, I don’t follow any influencers or big sports people, but my cousin Lisa inspired me to run. She’s who I did my first half marathon with. She does a lot of half marathons, and since then I’ve run another one with her. She gives me my running motivation because she’s 50 years old and still runs marathons and half marathons like all the time! Like at least 10 a year.

Way to go Lisa!

She’s super fit and she’s so cool, I just want to be like her!

That's amazing, we all need a Lisa in our lives.

Check out SeeWhatSheCanDo's Discover blog maybe you'll find your Lisa!



Looking to learn more? Explore our Cheerleading, Running, or Active Living activity pages for articles, videos, and great community resources.

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