July 21: Women's 400m Hurdles is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The 2015 Pan Am Games were a success for Canadian athletes. An impressive 217 medals were won by Canada, seventy-eight of which were gold.

The University of Toronto was well represented in the competition; trampolinist Rosie MacLennan took home gold in the individual event, Sarah Wells won silver in 400m hurdles, and 2014-15 Varsity Blues female athlete of the year Sasha Gollish claimed bronze in the 1500m run, to name just a few stellar performances. In total, 12 Varsity Blues athletes participated in the Pan Am Games.

While Canada’s second place finish in the medal count was our best ever — almost 100 more than the 2011 Games — there are still some who continue to undermine the games, noting that they aren’t the Olympics and questioning that without the entire world competing, what’s the big deal?

Olympic hurdler Sarah Wells knows all too well about having to tune out negative talk.

“I’ve been at the University of Toronto for [about] ten years now, almost a decade,” Wells said,“the biggest thing was having the belief in myself to shut off the white noise of negative things people had to say about [her].”

The Pan Am Games have become the competition that breeds the stars of the future, as exemplified by exercise science master’s student Rosie MacLennan.

MacLennan’s rise began with her dominant gold medal performance in the 2011 Pan Am Games. The competition helped her gain the experience needed to improve her performance for the then upcoming 2012 London Olympics. In fact, it propelled MacLennan to become the only athlete to win gold for Canada in 2012.

MacLennan’s journey showcases the importance of the Pan Am Games; it’s an event that builds our athletes’ confidence and develops their abilities towards worldwide competitions such as the Olympics and world championships.

Wells is also looking to build on her Pan Am performance at next year’s 2016 Rio Olympics. Like MacLennan, she also participated in London, placing twenty-fourth in 400m hurdles.

“It was certainly the best experience of my life, it was kind of a long-shot for me to make it at all to begin with,” said Wells, “I was probably more nervous for the Olympic trials themselves just because there’s more on the line and there’s more to lose. So it was pretty fun to go to the Olympics and have nothing to lose and do my best.”

The 25-year-old, who writes on her palms with the phrase “I believe” before every major race, believes faith and balance is crucial to her success. Though as much as she defines herself as a track and field athlete, the sport isn’t everything to her.

“I have these other things going on, I have the public speaking, academics, I graduated from the University of Toronto and leveraged that network,” she said, “If you pour too much into one area and you get injured or don’t get into that graduate program of your choice, it’s going to be devastating and it’s going to rock your world.”

Wells, along with MacLennan, Gollish, and many of the 12 other U of T alumni who competed at the Pan Am games plan on making a go for the 2016 Olympics in Rio where they won’t face only the best of the Americas, but the best of the world.

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