Stephanie Dennis with daughter Freya — dressed as a tiger, the mascot for Dalhousie — accepts the Academic All Canadian Award. Dalhousie Athletics photo

Comox swimmer named Academic All Canadian

Captain Stephanie Dennis is a second-year Dalhousie medical student

When pregnant with her first child, Stephanie Dennis chased drug smugglers by plane in the Caribbean and hunted submarines in the Atlantic. She also posted some of her best swimming times — during pregnancy — while competing on the swim team at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S.

Captain Dennis (nee Bigelow), a Comox native and second-year medical student at Dalhousie, has been recognized as an Academic All Canadian by U Sports, the governing body of university sports in Canada. To qualify for the honour, a student-athlete needs to maintain an academic standing of at least 80 per cent while playing on a varsity team.

“She’s done super well this year,” said Dennis’ father, Fred Bigelow, CEO of the Comox Valley Airport Commission. “Her mother and I couldn’t be more proud. She had a tryout for the 2004 Olympics, but she didn’t go to that. She went to basic training instead.”

A former Canadian junior national team member, the 31-year-old Vanier graduate began her military career 13 years ago as an officer. Dennis graduated with a bachelor’s in chemistry from the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont. She then earned her wings as an Air Force navigator and became the first female instructor to train navigators at the base in Winnipeg. She was later posted to Nova Scotia, where she was the first person to become a tactical navigator immediately out of flight school on the CP-140 Aurora, a long-range patrol aircraft.

Dennis says she is inspired by the men and women on the Dalhousie swim team.

“They are such dedicated, smart individuals,” she said in a news release. “They are balancing so much between their studies, community work and being on a varsity team. I have so much respect for them.”

Dennis, who has her own balancing act to manage, says the support of husband Scott Dennis enables her to study and swim. She has a two-year-old son, Eric, and a 10-month-old daughter, Freya. She was pregnant with Freya in her first year of medical school — so she brought her to the All Canadian Awards luncheon, holding her in her arms as she accepted the award.

“She had been with me in my belly the whole time I was swimming for the swim team, so she deserved the award as well.”

Dennis hopes to work in the area of family medicine. In her final year of school, she would like to complete her student research project on the benefits of exercise and pregnancy.

“I am always surprised at what you can do if you put your mind to something,” she said. “I am a big believer in taking an opportunity if it is presented to you.”

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