A competitive hockey career might be over for Vicki Bendus, but she’s sticking around the sport.
Having graduated from Brock University with a master’s degree in kinesiology, the Wasaga Beach native is now the lead sports performance coach for the Badgers’ hockey and soccer teams. Her opportunity came about during her last year of school.
“In 2016, Brock hired Steve Lidstone as the sports performance manager (after) essentially doing the same job at McMaster,” Bendus said. “He was there to help build the strength and conditioning program at Brock, which didn’t really exist before him. If teams had wanted training beforehand, they’d just find someone locally and go train with them, since we didn’t have anyone in-house. Our Athletic Director, Neil Lumsden, brought Steve in, and he was able to hire two coaches underneath him, and I was one of them.”
When Bendus was an undergrad at Mercyhurst University and playing hockey for the Lakers, she had a very different goal.
“I actually wanted to be a doctor in my undergrad and wrote my MCAT (Medical College Admission Test),” Bendus said.
After graduation, she took a few years away from school to play for Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team, where she won gold at the 2012 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship. By the time she had decided to call it quits, her outlook on professional interests had changed.
“I realized how passionate I was about strength and conditioning and training athletes versus medicine,” Bendus said. “That’s how I found my way to Brock. I started my masters in kinesiology there and finished that in the summer (of 2017).”
The off-ice aspect of being an athlete was one Bendus always relished in her playing days and that carries over to how she approaches her work for the university hockey and soccer teams.
“Since I played sport at a reasonably high level, training was always an important part of my progress and my ability to play at a high level,” she said. “I always loved the training part of it, in terms of being able to get stronger and faster and more conditioned by doing something away from your sport.”
Having played at a professional level, with the Brampton Thunder of the Canadian Women Hockey’s League, as well as internationally for Canada allows Bendus to see and understand what her players are going through.
“It helps me relate to the athletes, because I understand the grind of a season or what it’s like to go through a training camp, or the feeling of being injured and not being able to play your sport or compete,” she said. “My background as an athlete has given me familiarity with training and what athletes need to develop physically, as well as the ability to relate to them and what they’re feeling at any given moment.”
Bendus feels, given the ever-increasing demand for high-performance training, this field will continue to get bigger.
“It’s growing and, every single year, it grows even more,” she said. “When I was a young athlete, there weren’t that many dedicated strength and conditioning coaches at universities or gyms, so if a young athlete wanted to improve their physical abilities, there were personal trainers around, but it was a different mindset.
“I was lucky, because I grew up in Wasaga Beach and somehow crossed paths with a strength and conditioning coach named Sarah Applegarth, who was way ahead of the times back then,” added the former Clearview Icecat. “She was able to train me as an athlete like we train our athletes now.”
While Bendus couldn’t play at the international level forever, she found a way to stay in sport and work in a field she loves.
“Yeah, for sure,” she said. “That’s kind of where I was very fortunate. After my undergrad, I had a couple of years away from formal schooling, because it really made me realize how much I enjoy being in an atmosphere with athletes in high-performance sport, because it’s an exciting field. I’m very happy I didn’t go the medical school route, because I love being with athletes and working in sport.”
Photo courtesy of Brock University