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Soo Builders Building Champions: Lydia Heimonen

Lydia Heimonen Building Champions

Mike Barrett,

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — There are a number of students at Lake Superior State University who commute from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, across the Saint Mary's River.

Lydia Heimonen, a member of the track and field and cross country teams at Lake State, is one of the students who commutes across the border from Canada to attend Lake Superior State.

Heimonen, who hails from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, was quite familiar with the university before becoming a student. Her parents are both alums; her mother was a member of the tennis team, while her father majored in nursing.

"Both of my parents went to Lake State," said Heimonen. "My mom played tennis here and my dad was in nursing, so I grew up familiar with the school. I actually came over here and trained while in high school too, so it's close to home and I just commute here every day."

A nursing major, Heimonen says she was drawn to the program by her father, Harri, who currently works as a registered nurse at War Memorial Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

"My first year at Lake State, I was an exercise science major," she said. "I did not decide I wanted to pursue nursing until I spent a day over the summer with my dad at the hospital. After that day, I made the decision to switch to nursing."

As with most athletes, Heimonen was introduced to her sport at an early age. Her father, also a runner, got her into the sport when she was four or five years old. 

"He would take me out on runs, even though I didn't want to go, and I'm grateful for that because I'm glad he got me into running," she remarked. "At times I may not have liked it, but I eventually started loving it. I really started training in grade seven or eight, and throughout high school I had an awesome coach."

During her freshman indoor track season, Heimonen had an auspicious moment when she set the new school record for the women's 800-meter run. Her time of 2:19.03, during the Doug Hansen Open at Saginaw Valley State University, topped the 2:20.35 mark set by Meghan Juuti in 2005.

"That was exciting for me," she said, "and probably the highlight of my running career here, so far."

As with all nursing students, Heimonen has made her rounds through various clinical sites and seen many different environments. "We have had clinical experiences at War Memorial, Mackinac Straits [in St. Ignace], and in Sault, Canada," she explained.

Beyond the clinical hours, Heimonen and her nursing cohort have also been able to utilize the university's new Simulation Center (the "Sim Center" for short), which was moved on campus from its previous location at the beginning of the school year.

"That has been really nice to have," remarked Heimonen, on the Sim Center. "It is so awesome. They can pretty much simulate any nursing experience that we need to practice — real-life situations and taking care of patients. You are in an environment where you are not actually going to hurt the patient and you are allowed to make mistakes."

Looking at her next step in life after graduating, Heimonen has some areas that she is particularly interested in, but is not set on any exact one.

"Last semester, I was in obstetrics and I really enjoyed that," she said.  "I'm hoping to go into OB or the operating room, but I know my first couple of years will probably be in medical surgical, getting my basics down. There are a lot of opportunities."

As with most student-athletes, Heimonen has successfully taken on the challenge of balancing academics and athletics. With clinical hours often held outside the normal school day, there is a good chance they may overlap with practices. 

"It is challenging at times, especially when we have 6 a.m. clinicals and 6 a.m. practices, but the coaches are awesome in being able to accommodate our different needs," said Heimonen. "We make it work.  Our coaches are great and the professors are too. School always comes first."

She has succeeded academically, as she was a member of the GLIAC All-Academic Team during her sophomore and junior years.

Laker head coach Rob Gallinger spoke highly of Heimonen's dedication to both her studies and the teams.

"Lydia is everything a coach could want in a student-athlete; hard-working, dedicated to the team, a true competitor and strong in the classroom. She is someone that is rightfully looked at as a role model, on and off the track. Lydia demands a lot from herself but it's made her a better nurse, student and athlete. She brings that want and need for excellence to practice and elevates the team around her." 

Heimonen had a strong performance at the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Championships. She was part of the distance medley relay team along with sophomore Riley Collins, freshman Elizabeth Setsuda and junior Rebecca Lathrop finished in eighth place with a time of 12:48.48 to earn score a point for the Lakers. Their performance was a little over four seconds off of the Lake Superior State women's indoor DMR record time of 12:44.39, which was set by the team of Amy BusfieldDianna KintzMandi DeBlock and Juutie in 2005.  

The track teams are now approaching their outdoor season, which begins with the Blizzard Buster, held on March 23, at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio

Running on both the cross country and track teams coupled with the intensive nature of the nursing program keeps her busy, Heimonen says she wouldn't have it any other way.

"I could not imagine being in school and not running.  It's what I have always done."

Laker Spotlight is brought to you by Soo Builders, proud partner of Laker Athletics.