May 22, 2018

Class of 2018: Brianna Ghali could have taken an easier path

Kinesiology grad 'squeezes 28 hours out of a 24-hour day,' says Dinos coach

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Scott Cruickshank, for University Relations

Brianna Ghali, who is mulling pro basketball options after graduation, says life wouldn't be complete without being involved in community service.

Brianna Ghali says life wouldn't be complete without being involved in community service.

David Moll, for Dinos Athletics

Reflecting on five years at the University of Calgary, Brianna Ghali realizes she could have taken an easier path.

She didn't have to throw herself into varsity sports — in her case, as a standout for the Dinos women's basketball team. She didn't have to maintain a near-perfect grade point average as she earned a Bachelor of Science from the Faculty of Kinesiology. She didn't have to invest countless hours in volunteer work.

But she did.

And sitting where she is now — preparing for the upcoming convocation, preparing for professional basketball in Europe this year and medical-school enrolment down the road — Ghali regrets none of it.

"When things were tough, I knew it was a choice I made," says Ghali, "so I wasn't going to complain about it. Now that my degree is done, it's like, 'OK, wow. I did all that stuff.' It was not easy. I definitely cried a few times … but it was worth it."

Not that the pace had been anything new for the Calgarian, who stayed plenty busy during her days at William Aberhart High School.

"I was used to juggling a lot of things, like eating dinner in cars while driving to the next thing," says Ghali. "But, of course, there were so many overwhelming moments (at the university level) — 'Oh my goodness, I have three exams on Monday and we're on the plane back from an away weekend. How am I going to get it all done?' But then when I've done it, I always look back and say, 'You know what? It wasn't that bad.'"

Dinos coach Damian Jennings, over their five years, learned to never doubt the five-foot-11 buzzsaw, no matter how stiff the challenge.

Brianna Ghali's athletic headshot.

Brianna Ghali's athletic headshot.

David Moll, for Dinos Athletics

High achiever has well-rounded approach to life

"She squeezes 28 hours out of a 24-hour day," he says. "You could imagine that she might take herself a little bit too seriously, but she doesn't. She's just a high-achiever, an absolute high-achiever."

Helping the Dinos advance to the USports final-eight tourney in Regina and capture the consolation final, Ghali managed to average 14.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game for the year.

The Canada West athletic conference, taking note of Ghali's well-rounded approach to life, selected her to receive the Sylvia Sweeney Award, which recognizes excellence in basketball, academics, and community service.

Her extracurricular endeavours include the Autism and Asperger's Friendship Society, Alberta Children's Hospital, and JointEffort, a rehab and exercise program for elderly individuals with osteoarthritis and other ailments.

"Volunteering, it feels awesome to do it," says Ghali. "It's so much fun. I get to know the people, different kinds of people, that have a completely different life than I know. I can't imagine (being a student) without the volunteering, without trying so hard in school. I'm definitely a nerd … I know that.

"I love the school part of it. I love being challenged by basketball, even though it's not easy. I just find that they all balance themselves out. I can't imagine doing two without the third one."

Role models, including Dad, have inspired Ghali's work ethic

Over the years, Ghali has found time to be inspired herself. Role models include Jennings; Emma Pedersen, a Dinos volleyball player who went on to medical school; Dr. Carolyn Emery, a professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology with whom she did on-campus research; her father, William, a professor in the departments of medicine and community health services at UCalgary; and her mother, Katelyn.

"Such a hard worker, so generous, but, at the same time, he can accomplish so much in a day," Ghali says of her dad. "And I obviously am very inspired by my mother as well. She took her education so seriously along with raising three daughters."

While proud to see his star move on to a fresh chapter — Ghali is mulling pro basketball options in Switzerland, Austria, and Portugal —  Jennings acknowledges the hole her departure creates.

"She is that classy example to the rest of the team … she gets that balance that we're all looking for, pretty much spot on," says Jennings. "I want my players to be high achievers in all aspects. They have to prioritize. They have to be productive. Brianna comes to that very naturally. She's just an incredible person who is very much driving her own car."