Olympian Hopeful

Jillian D'Allesio with boat on shoulder
Jillian D’Alessio (LLB '15)
When Jill D’Alessio decided that she wanted to attend to law school, she submitted an application to only one place: Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law. “It was my first and only option because it had a great reputation, and because I wanted to set down roots near my family,” says the former Olympic flat-water sprint kayaker, who grew up in Middle Sackville and now lives in Dartmouth.

Putting down roots was important to D’Alessio, 29, considering that she had competed in more than 20 countries after joining the Canadian National Team in 2000. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, she raced in the K4 500m as part of a four-woman team, placing eighth overall. D’Alessio is also a two-time Pan American Games champion in the solo K1 500m and the K4 500m.

In addition to the Games, D’Alessio has represented Canada in three senior world championships, two junior world championships and seven world cup tours. She was part of the RBC Olympians program from October 2010 to October 2012, which provides financial support and a flexible work schedule to current and future Olympians so they can travel and compete.

As to whether D’Alessio has a preference for racing alone or with a team, she says diplomatically, “There are benefits to both kinds of competition. You have to train alone, but I also like learning how to work with a team.”


Balancing sport and school

jillian-dallessioSet to graduate in 2015, D’Alessio first thought about pursuing a legal career while studying political science and philosophy at Saint Mary’s University (she earned her undergraduate degree in 2009). Her current interests are family and criminal law. She also especially enjoyed last year’s Sopinka McKelvey moot. “We were learning trial experience, and we did a criminal trial where we had to think on our feet. It was very engaging.”

D’Alessio was involved at Schulich beyond academics, as president of the Domus Legis Society and a member of the Law Students’ Society’s grad committee. “I like to juggle a few things,” she says. “It helps keep me on my toes.” A typical day involved classes from 9 a.m. to around 2 p.m., at which time she would head to the Banook Canoe Club in Dartmouth to coach for a couple of hours (she’s interim head coach for the 17-and-under age group). Three days a week, D’Alessio got up at 5:30 a.m. to coach for a couple of hours at Banook or the Dartmouth Sportsplex before classes started.

To maintain her own fitness level, D’Alessio regularly weight trains and runs. She trained locally last summer and, when classes resumed in September, continued doing so throughout the fall when classes were done for the day. She is currently facing a setback due to complications of a thyroid condition.

I learned early that I can’t be one-dimensional, that juggling a few things helps make me more productive.

After she graduates, her ideal situation would involve time for her plans to race for a spot on the August 2016 Olympic team in Rio de Janeiro, allowing time for the necessary high-intensity training, will consume roughly 25 hours per week.

“Right now I’ve sacrificed my training for school and coaching, which helps pay bills and offsets the cost of going to school,” says D’Alessio. “When I was a full-time athlete, I would balance out the elements of my life that were important—training, spending time with my family, friends and boyfriend, getting enough rest and working a bit on the side. I learned early that I can’t be one-dimensional, that juggling a few things helps make me more productive.”

D’Alessio sees her career in law as a marathon, not a sprint.


Future prospects

Although there’s a broad window, age-wise, for elite-level kayaking, D’Alessio feels that 2016, when she’ll be 31, will be her last opportunity to compete in the K1 500m at an Olympic Games. If she proceeds with her training plan for Rio, she would be based in Dartmouth but spend the winter months in Florida.

D’Alessio values the opportunities that representing Canada on an international stage has offered her. “Sport has opened the world to me, but there was never much opportunity for sightseeing when I was competing in different countries,” she says, laughing. “What I liked most was finding the local square, sitting to have a coffee and watching people walk by.”

With so much on the go, D’Alessio appreciates her rare downtime, preferring to spend it with her close-knit family and her boyfriend. Another important companion is her eight-year-old miniature cockapoo, Boots, whom she enjoys taking for walks and to Rainbow Haven beach. But after she’s relaxed and rested, it isn’t long before D’Alessio is geared up to go again, whether it’s at work or on the water.

D’Alessio’s philosophy about sport and law draws an interesting parallel. “Competition comes down to you being challenged and tested,” she says. “Whether it’s in sport or in a courtroom, it’s all about the preparation you did beforehand, which is crucial. You have to be prepared, then do the best you can and hope that the outcome is positive.”  •

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