Nov. 24, 2020

Class of 2020: Dinos alumna and critical care researcher views teamwork as key to success

Kira Makuk is multiple winner of Academics All-Canadian Award

Playing on the Dinos women’s hockey team from 2016 to 2020, Kira Makuk learned an invaluable lesson that everyone can heed: commit yourself to teamwork and persistence and you can overcome anything.

“In varsity sports there’s this unwritten idea of the team that is more important than winning or losing,” says the Class of 2020 graduate of the Bachelor of Health Sciences program (BHSc’20). “You’re working together toward a common goal. Usually that’s winning a championship. You give your best effort day-in and day-out because it’s all about the team.”

  • Photo above: Kira Makuk showed her talents as both a forward and defence player during her four years with the Dinos women’s hockey team.

Now a research assistant with the Calgary Critical Care Research Network (C3RN), Makuk is applying the skills she learned in the classroom and on the rink to her job. Her research work focuses partly on transitions in care and restricted visitation, which are timely areas of concern during the pandemic.  

The multidisciplinary C3RN team at the Cumming School of Medicine aims to promote and provide research excellence in critical care.

“It’s a very interesting time to graduate,” says Makuk, who is considering a master’s degree but first wanted to get hands-on experience in the health-care field. “What COVID-19 has taught me is that you have to try and understand all perspectives and then craft measures and policies to get the most public buy-in. It’s another way to look at teamwork.”

Makuk gained an international perspective when she enrolled last summer at the University of Adelaide in Australia for two intensive courses there on public health nutrition and international public health.

Kira Makuk (left) and her friend Grace Kennedy sit on a perch overlooking Wineglass Bay in Tasmania, Australia

Kira Makuk (left) and her friend Grace Kennedy sit on a perch overlooking Wineglass Bay in Tasmania, Australia, during an excursion while studying abroad at the University of Adelaide.

A four-time winner of the Academic All-Canadian Award — it honours student-athletes who achieve an average of 80 per cent or better over the academic year while competing for one or more university varsity team — Makuk views life as a series of challenges to be overcome. Last year was a case in point.

“In 2019, a coaching poll voted our team dead last, so, the most unlikely to win,” says Makuk, a utility player who has rotated between playing defence and forward. “We had a brutal three years beginning in 2016, sitting at the bottom of the league.”

Striving to overcome odds

The team clawed its way to second place in the Canada West league and made it to the semi-finals, one step away from the battle for the championship. On March 12 at Father David Bauer Arena, the clinching game against the Mount Royal University Cougars went into double overtime.

The Dinos lost by one goal but gained a heartfelt victory in proving they could come together to beat the odds.

“We had all made a big mental shift to accomplish something together and for me, it showed the power of working hard for new beginnings,” says Makuk.

Team assistant captain Rachel Paul says she has been in awe of Makuk’s work ethic, drive to better the world, and poise beyond her years. “Kira is one of the hardest-working and motivated people I have met in both athletics and academics. She leads by example and betters the people around her."

Working to advance other women

Makuk’s two older brothers were strong hockey players as she grew up in Calgary. So, she felt she had something to prove. She was a trailblazer as a girl playing hockey on boy’s teams, starting when she was five years old and switching to female hockey when she was 12, swiftly working her way onto premiere teams.

Though she chose UCalgary for its health sciences program, she always had her eyes set on playing varsity hockey. To do so, she had to train hard because she wasn’t recruited directly out of high school. Putting in long stints at the gym eventually paid off and she made the team.

“To compete at the varsity level and also be successful in a research-intensive honours degree is a huge accomplishment,” says Dr. Fabiola Aparicio-Ting, director of the health and society program. “Kira worked hard to balance it all and is a role model for other students. I think this experience has really set Kira up for success in a career in medicine and public health.”

Makuk continues to find ways to twin her academic experiences with her on-ice abilities. One of her favourites is the volunteer work she does with Fast and Female, a charity that empowers young girls to stay in sport.

Kira Makuk plays warmup games with the girls as she volunteers for Fast and Female at the Rocky Mountain Soap Run in Canmore.

Kira Makuk plays warmup games with the girls as she volunteers for Fast and Female at the Rocky Mountain Soap Run in Canmore.

“I love that Fast and Female takes a holistic approach to health,” she says. “We look at building confidence, and discuss self-image, all while giving the girls an inclusive and safe environment to engage in sport.”

For Makuk, graduating at UCalgary continues a family tradition of teamwork and persistence, as she follows in the alumni footsteps of her parents and brothers.

Convocation is a virtual celebration this year, but she has already celebrated with her family. Of course, there was an outdoor activity — COVID-friendly yard games. She won a few of them but admits there’s always room for improvement.