The Rise of Vikes Nation
Believe it or not, once upon a time in a land far away, Vikes Nation wasn’t a thing. We were just aimless students wandering through a 4 to 100 year degree in the pursuit of greater things.
Step 1: Vikes Nation as an Idea
It all started four years ago, in a room no larger than your mother’s dream walk-in closet (okay, that sounds pretty big but it was a medium sized room).
There were eight students gathered around a table, talking about how we could bring a better sense of community to our campus.
Through countless (fun) meetings of continuous brainstorming and the tireless efforts of our Vikes Leadership Council (now called Vikes Nation Ambassadors), the idea and concept of Vikes Nation was born.
The original mastermind behind the program, Zac Andrus, talks about his journey since the program’s inception. “Vikes Nation has organically grown more than I could have ever imagined since we launched it 4 years ago. It’s taken on a life of its own and the students are really taking ownership of it. The passion I witness in the students’ eyes and pride for being Vikes is a real pleasure. I think the potential was always there for this kind of school pride and passion for healthy living on campus; students just never had a common community before to really express themselves and showcase their passions in this way. It’s great to see and I think it will only grow more from here!”
The idea was launched, time to bring it to life.
Step 2: Giving Life to Vikes Nation
Taking an idea and giving it life was the next step. How do you take a concept and ask 20,000+ students and staff on campus to buy into it?
In what seemed like an impossible task, the Vikes Leadership Council under the direction of Zac Andrus (Campus Engagement Officer) and Shawna Dash (Vikes Marketing Assistant) took off!
It was around Halloween and the campus was hosting Sustainability Week. As a council, we thought about what we could do to tie the Vikes Nation mantra of active, healthy living while keeping in theme with sustainability week and Halloween.
We thought of a dance… no. We thought maybe campus wide scavenger hunts… no. Or maybe a water fight… nah. Then we had it–a campus game of dodgeball but IN THE DARK. And Dodge in the Dark was born.
In the first-ever event, we saw hundreds of students fill the empty gym and roar through the hallways of the Ian Stewart Complex. From here, Vikes Nation started its ascent to becoming the heartbeat of UVic, breathing uproariously and sprinting towards success.
Step 3: Vikes Nation Ambassadors
In the following months, the Vikes Nation Ambassador program erupted with a roar of school spirit, active living, inclusive lifestyles and special abilities.
Approximately 20 students made up the team of varsity athletes, recreation student-employees and the Vikes Leadership Council (VLC). Our first-ever event together became the Yoga Rave.
As an original member, I was joined by my super great pal Samantha Bright to become the first executive team for Vikes Nation. We led groups of students in activities and promotions to give life to and sustain the concept of Vikes Nation across campus.
From being hysterical at varsity events and leading the charge in the spirit section to creating brand new campaigns such as “it’s in your hands” and handing out loads of great (free) swag to students, we set the motion for the next few years.
Alisha Kumar, Vikes Nation Executive for 2016/17, describes her time with the program. “I had never gotten the sense of belonging at a school like I wanted to until I came to UVic and joined Vikes Nation. While I knew no one on the island, joining a group of strangers somehow turned into one of my favourite adventures so far. The people who I volunteered with not only became friends but have become family.”
The Vikes Nation Ambassador program slowly shifted over the years and currently hosts 100 ambassadors with 6 executives ranging in teams from social media to music.
Ryland Horvat from Prince George, first-year ambassador studying engineering, has already gained tons of new skills. “I got involved because I knew what they were doing was great; making students happy, hyped, and feeling like a community! Since joining, it has been a blast, and the team has made me feel like I’m part of the family. They have taught me a lot already in motivating, leadership and confidence, all lifelong skills!”
The program continues to inspire and instill success for its students, becoming part of the co-curricular pilot program at UVic and offering opportunities such as access to new initiatives like bystander intervention training. VNA aren’t just students — they are leaders and role models on campus. We’re everywhere from your first year engineering class to the final year stage producers at Phoenix Theatre.
Step 4: Welcome to CARSA
With the opening of the Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities (CARSA), this was a chance for Vikes Nation to take the next step.
From a brand new performance gym to state of the art studios, the mantra of Vikes Nation in active, healthy and inclusive living got a massive revival.
From breaking records for the first-ever basketball game in the CARSA Performance Gym to filling the field house for elementary students’ Be A Vike Day, Vikes Nation was now not only an initiative but became an identity for our campus, the Greater Victoria area, as well as across Canada!
First-year ambassador Hannah Bilash knew of Vikes Nation before she even moved to Victoria. Allie Harrington, a second-year Vikes Nation Ambassador and current Vikes Nation Executive from California states that “Vikes Nation is a good reminder of home because back in high school we had football to hype everyone up; we had dress up days leading up to a big home game and everyone would show up to the game decked out in face paint – I’m trying really hard to hype that same energy here!”
With regards to being part of Vikes Nation since its earlier days and with the massive sell out basketball game, Nick Mann, a 5th year economics student from Ontario and previous executive states, “I’ve always enjoyed being involved at university and Vikes Nation has not only given me an opportunity to do just that, in athletics and recreation no less. It’s provided me the ability to better my fellow students university experiences. Being there for that first sell out game was CRAZY! I worked at the equipment desk at the gym before any games were ever played in the performance gym so I got to see the potential before anything went down and wow… I could never have imagined we’d have such an electric atmosphere right here at UVic.”
Step 5: Vikes Nation has no Limits
Most people hear the words Vikes Nation and automatically think about fitness. Although the program did come in to play to put strategies in place for the betterment of activity on our campus, it isn’t defined by working out or going to the gym. Vikes Nation simply showcases the act of being involved.
It means attending events, it means being with friends at McPherson, it means trivia night at Felicita’s Campus Pub, it means joining an intramurals team, it means finding your path at university. It means so much more than the 11 letters it’s composed of.
Joel Lynn, Executive Director of Student Services sums up the involvement of Vikes Nation on campus perfectly, “The Vikes Nation model of student engagement has created a meaningful, positive community for thousands of students, by providing unique opportunities for participation and leadership that were not previously in place at UVic. The model also strategically considers the question of equal access, differing abilities, skills and interests among its organizational structure, programs, and goals in a way that achieves an amazing common purpose – successful student engagement and strong sense of community.”
There is no one person or thing that captures Vikes Nation, because frankly it’s the air around us and the campus itself. The concept and build of the program continues to project forward with new events, new initiatives and a constant flood of students who keep it alive.
Step 6: Impact
The drive for Vikes Nation was needed and very well perceived. It took no time at all for buy in across campus but there was a ton of work put in. Seeing the coffee cups on campus change to official Vikes Nation branding was so cool. It was just an idea and now literally every student on campus was holding it in their hands – a concept and idea from the beginning, putting Vikes Nation in the hands of the students and community.The results of Vikes Nation were seen high and low.
Through concrete evidence of wild students in complete blue and gold at varsity games to abstract ideas in every breath of a morning yoga ritual, Ashley Mclaren has been with the department of athletics and recreation for the past two and a half years where she currently acts as the fitness programming assistant, a fantastic yoga and spin instructor while also studying recreation and health. She says, “Over the past 2.5 years that I have had the opportunity to work for Athletics and Recreation, I have seen an increased buy in from our students, from large events like the yoga rave to smaller events like yoga classes for de-stress week. Vikes Nation has had an increased presence and influence, encouraging other students to join in and get involved.”
Vikes Nation has also seen huge advances with creating legacies for a variety of smaller clubs and events.
In my first year as the Vikes Marketing & Engagement Assistant, I felt there needed to be some love for the Vikes Hockey Team. In our first ever Hockey Night at UVic event, the arena went over capacity and the community came together like no other to showcase our love and support for not only our team but Canada’s game.
The head coach found the Vikes Nation Ambassador team after the event and stated that in his 9 years, he never heard the arena shake and rumble like it did that night. Kelly Loudoun, a member of the Vikes Hockey Team during the inaugural event in 2014 enthused, “Vikes Nation helped put UVic hockey on the map. Without their support, the hockey program would not be where it is today. Ultimately we hope that Vikes Nation can support the hockey team’s transition to varsity.”
It’s been a wild ride, but it doesn’t stop there. With the rise of Vikes Nation also came increased support for our varsity teams.
Jess Neilson, a 4th year political science student and MVP women’s rugby player, talks about the emotional involvement of Vikes Nation. “Having Vikes Nation on campus means a lot to the Varsity athletes because these individuals invest themselves so much into the teams that it’s a gentle reminder to really appreciate being a part of something so special, whereby that spirit encompasses more than the direct team. It’s truly the whole school and beyond that at times. I’ll never forget having the ambassadors at our National Championships, with them revving up the crowd and getting chants going, it really gave our team the push it needed deep into the game. It’s moments like those that Vikes Nation really is something that transcends individuals and makes you feel a part of something larger than itself”!
As well as our varsity teammates feeling the love and utilizing momentum to push their energy towards championships, our coaches and varsity captains also feel that Vikes Nation captures determination in their passions.
Aalbert Von Schothorst, Vikes men’s rowing head coach, captains Adam Donaldson and Mark Davies discuss Vikes Nation around a table and mention how it became a shared identity for not just each sport but for all the athletes between all the sports programs. From recreation, clubs and varsity, the impact of Vikes Nation shows strength and togetherness in a community that can’t be stopped.
Even though we’ve heard from various members of our team, it takes a director and leader to help shape this vision; the vision for unity and the vision for CARSA. Clint Hamilton, Director of Vikes Athletics & Recreation lays it down, “Vikes Nation has been remarkable in creating an inclusive welcoming community for students to come together in pursuit of active living, sport and UVic. Watching student Vikes Nation Ambassadors volunteer many hours encouraging their peers to partake in the many active living opportunities and events on our campus has been incredible to watch. It has made a positive impact in engaging students with our incredible university and in helping them to succeed.”
Step 7: What’s next?
The toughest part of Vikes Nation was deciding to leave my position as Marketing & Engagement Assistant after a fantastic four years building Vikes Nation, the team, the culture and turning coworkers/friends to family.
Unfortunately, my plan to leave didn’t pan out as well (in terms of higher education) and I found myself back at UVic. That being said, I got to experience a brand new side to Vikes Nation – the side of the student perspective. I had always been an “employee” and planner with the initiative so I never got to truly live the experience.
In the past few months, I have felt the harvest of our hard work and this feeling compares to nothing I’ve ever felt or witnessed. I feel proud, I hold my head high as I take in these moments.
Tanner Lorenson, second year political science student, was a previous ambassador before she took on my role as Marketing & Engagement Assistant. For Tanner, “Joining Vikes Nation has meant the world to me. It has defined my university experience more than I had ever expected an extra-curricular activity, now job, to do. Through this program I met my best friends, my roommates and a group of people who have shaped me in ways I will never be able to describe. I simply cannot imagine where I would be without this program and how it has allowed me to grow, lead and learn.”
Yowza… does anyone else feel the waterworks coming?
There is a shift and a change in the air. Vikes Nation now not only knows endless limits but it’s about to create and shape an era of students that will take away not just a degree but a university experience and a family.
WHO are we?