Former boxer and fitness trainer, U of T grad finds his calling in academic research
Kyle Farwell devoted most of his 20 years to amateur boxing, hoping to one day qualify for the Olympics.
“It consumed my life,” he says. “It was about getting into the boxing gym before work, after work, on weekends.”
He qualified for the Commonwealth Games, but ultimately decided not to pursue his boxing career. Instead, he turned to personal training, which occupied the next 13 years of his life – and eventually led him to study kinesiology at the University of Toronto.
“I was still working as a full-time certified personal trainer when I started my undergraduate studies,” says Farwell, who graduated this week from the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE).
He says he wants to learn more about the knowledge and research behind his industry.
“I worked very hard to be good at my job and felt rewarded when my contribution was required to assess clients and train new employees, but I always asked myself, ‘Why are we doing the right things? this way ?’ For example, if someone’s knee comes off, how do we know it’s that muscle that’s failing, that we need to strengthen?The fitness industry can sometimes speak in absolute terms.
Besides having an inquisitive mind, Farwell had personal reasons for returning to school. After having back surgery several years ago, he decided working out at a gym wasn’t helping his recovery. He also had a young family to think about: a wife and a son.
“Coincidentally, the Ontario government was starting to supplement OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) with more scholarships for mature students,” says Farwell. “I didn’t want to ask myself later in life – or have my son ask me – ‘What were you doing when they offered free education?’ I wanted to have a good answer to that.
So he applied to kinesiology at U of T and never looked back — even applying to do research in the summer months.
“I had such a great time in my freshman year that I didn’t want to just take two months off or work in the summer,” he says. “I knew I would miss being on campus, so I jumped at the chance to apply for the undergraduate research.”
He worked with Associate Professor Katherine Tamminen from KPE’s Sport and Performance Psychology Lab to explore athletes’ emotional responses to injury. Not only was Farwell able to identify personally with the research, but he says he was quickly “hooked” and credits Tamminen for helping launch his career as an academic researcher. “I love running into Professor Tamminen and saying that to her when I see her,” he says.
Another highlight: a cadaver anatomy dissection project with an assistant professor David Frost which was co-supervised by Associate Professor Judi Laprade from the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, Assistant Professor KPE Timothy Burkhart and Tyson Beachnow a lecturer in biomechanics at the University of Waterloo.
“It was an amazing experience,” says Farwell. “I was literally working with thorns every day. There was so much to take in.
(Image via University of Toronto)
Beyond his classes and his research, Farwell has fond memories of the three years he spent living in student family housing on Charles Street.
“It was such a cool time in our lives,” he says. “My son Logan had daycare across the street from one of my classes, so I would take him to daycare and then walk across the hall to my class and everyone could meet him, talk to him and give him tips. high fives.”
The only challenge during his studies was time, “but there’s nothing unique about that,” he says. “It was difficult to balance everything, but the [KPE] offers huge resources – you just have to use them.
His advice to students coming up behind him? “Do ordinary things very well. There’s nothing unique about me, but what I did well was that I showed up for every class. I don’t think I missed an undergrad class. I sat in the front row. I asked questions when I had them. I didn’t care what people thought of me, even though everyone was awesome. I did the readings. Anyone can do that.
“It’s a good program and everyone has worked hard to get here, so don’t let up on the gas now that you’re here.”
Farwell certainly did not. He is already working on a master’s degree in kinesiology with Frost as his supervisor.
“I love it,” he says. “Thanks to the research I did during my undergraduate studies, I already have data to support some of the things I plan to study for my master’s thesis – in particular, how certain stresses affect different characteristics movement in an individual.
“I love the research process, but my real interest is in applying this knowledge to the general population in a meaningful way.”