Ken Woods Thunderbird Award helps student athletes play at the top of their game

Thunderbirds Ken Woods and Kate Johnston

Ken Woods Thunderbird Award helps student athletes play at the top of their game

Both the women's and men’s UBC golf teams had record-breaking starts to the 2018-19 season. Led by Cascade Collegiate Conference (CCC) Coach of the Year Chris MacDonald, the teams have kept the UBC Thunderbirds winning tradition alive and well by claiming the top spots at a remarkable eight tournaments so far this year.

The teams’ performances were backed up by strong showings from rising stars, like co-Captain of the women’s team Kate Johnston. A recipient of the Ken Woods Thunderbird Award, the third-year UBC Sauder School of Business student had her first collegiate win at the Corban Desert Intercollegiate in Indio, California in March.


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Balancing academics with the demands of competing in a year-round sport like golf leaves little time for paid work, explains Kate. She says scholarships like the one she received allow student athletes to prioritize their studies and sports.

“When we don’t have to worry as much about how our tuition and housing are being covered, it really allows us to spend the time we need to in order to see results on the golf course,” says Kate. “It makes a huge difference to know that you have the support from alumni and other sponsors that is going to allow you to take that time to focus on your game and elevate it to the next level.”

Since the Ken Woods Thunderbird Award was established in 2011, 29 student athletes like Kate have been supported. Currently available to athletes from the women and men’s basketball and golf teams, the award will be made available to athletes from two other sports in the coming years.

UBC graduate and noted philanthropist Ken Woods says that his experience as a student at UBC prompted him to donate $1 million to fund the award. Having worked his way through university, Ken says he did not have time to participate in varsity athletics himself. Understanding the sacrifices student athletes make, he hopes to provide them with the space to pursue their goals.

“If these students don’t have to work as much and can use the scholarships so that they can spend more time on academics or more time practicing to become the very best, then it’s money well spent,” Ken says.

After retiring from a successful career as the co-founder of one of Canada’s largest investment counseling firms, Ken and his wife, Anne, have devoted themselves to causes they feel connected to. After years of being actively involved with his alma mater as a fan of UBC varsity basketball and as a director on the Thunderbird Golf Society, Ken saw an opportunity to help his favourite sports compete for national varsity championships.

For captain of the women’s basketball team, Jessica Hanson, the support she received through the Ken Woods Award extends beyond the financial help. She says that Ken has also been a mentor, encouraging her to help her team to be the best it can be.

“He’s done so much for me and for the team,” she says. “It’s an exciting year for us. We’re going into this season with confidence that our hard work is putting us in the best position to achieve our team goals for the year.”

Ken hopes to extend the award to help other Thunderbirds teams achieve the same level of success the golf and basketball teams have enjoyed in recent years. His desire to give the next generation of Thunderbird athletes the chance to achieve excellence is what drives his involvement.

“I just want to fund good, nice people that happen to excel in their discipline,” explains Ken. “Whether they go into careers in their sport or in another field, these athletes are so much better prepared for entering the real world after graduation. We’re creating the type of citizen that we want in this country. That’s what I feel good about.”

For athletes like Jessica and Kate, that support has been transformative.

“He contributes so much to student athletes, and it really allows us to go up there and do the thing we love,” says Kate. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without support from him and others like him.”

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