There was a time when, if he was moving to England, Liam Elbourne would have been certain it was to play soccer.
“Growing up, my sole focus was sport. I wanted to play professionally and I pursued that and played in professional clubs,” the Halifax native said.
That narrow focus, which he said continued when he arrived in Antigonish five years ago, began to broaden as he started what he described as his “journey” at St. F.X.
“School was an afterthought, but I quickly found a real passion for what I was doing and turned around from what was not a very good high school student to somebody who did really well, who was up with the top students in their program,” Elbourne said.
Along with continuing to shine on the pitch – the midfielder garnered the AUS top rookie award and an all-star nod during his X-Men soccer career – he excelled in the classroom and the community.
“Incredible support and feeling really lucky I ended up around so many wonderful people – great role models who were ahead of me,” Elbourne said, reflecting on the support he has received at his soon-to-be alma mater.
“Those types of figures stood out for me and I realized that anything was possible.”
Still ‘in shock’
When he makes that move across the Atlantic Ocean this fall, Elbourne will be studying as a prestigious Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.
“Honestly, the biggest thing for me, right away, was disbelief,” he said of finding out he was one of 11 Canadians selected for the honour.
Although a couple weeks removed from hearing that news, Elbourne added, he remained “in shock.”
“You almost apply as a long shot – like trying the lottery,” he said.
Elbourne described getting the chance to participate in the two-day interview process as “a huge milestone and a great experience.”
“I am really happy to have won, but it is really a group effort. You don’t win it on your own; you win it with your whole community and team of support around you,” he said.
Elbourne credited “great professors, who really took a deep interest, and roommates who really pushed me.”
There are also his classmates and X-Men soccer teammates.
“I feel grateful for all of them – everyone who has supported me,” Elbourne said.
Finding that ‘passion’
Along with being a key piece in helping establish the X-Men soccer program as a perennial conference power, Elbourne flourished as a business administration student in St. F.X.’s Schwartz School of Business.
The top-ranked student in the program for the 2017-18 academic year, with a 94.25 per cent average, he is a four-time U Sports Academic All-Canadian.
Elbourne has also become an accomplished – and published – researcher, having presented at the 52nd annual meeting of the Canadian Economics Association.
He was the only active undergraduate presenter amongst approximately 1,000 professional economists, central bankers, professors, and graduate students.
Elbourne’s research was published in Economics Letters, a highly respected peer-reviewed journal.
“Being a competitive person, you always want to do the best that you can – no matter what the arena – and that includes the classroom,” he said of his approach to academics.
When asked how he gets everything done, Elbourne said that is “something that I used to give a lot of thought to.”
“I started with a real focus just on soccer and then, in my second year, it – sort of – picked up a bit, where I was splitting my time between sport and school,” he added.
Elbourne then, more and more, started adding extra-curricular activities, such as the St. F.X. German Society; not to mention giving back to his community.
“I had people around me who were really involved and that really wowed me and I thought ‘how do they have the time to do it?’” he said.
At that time, Elbourne didn’t realize people were able to strike that balance because of their “passion” for what they were doing.
“I didn’t look for anything that I did – things just, sort of, came in front of me and you have sometimes, I think, an obligation or a feeling that you need to do something and get involved,” he offered.
“That was the main thing – having things that were important to me and that I enjoyed doing, which makes a busy schedule feel much less busy.”
Becoming an advocate
As part of his St. F.X. ‘journey,’ Elbourne has become an advocate for the prevention of sexualized violence, including serving as the sole male panelist for a Contextualizing #MeToo discussion in late 2017.
“They were looking for men who could share their perspective on things. That isn’t always an easy thing to do, because it is an uncomfortable thing to do – for men and women. For a lot of men, it is something quite foreign, I think,” he said.
“I thought if I say ‘no’ is there any guarantee that anybody else will say ‘yes.’ I was not in my comfort zone and that was a decision I made – that I needed to step out of my comfort zone, because somebody has to and I just can’t push that on to somebody else.
“I was terrified, but it was one of the best experiences that I have ever had,” Elbourne added.
He said he “learned a lot” from that colloquium experience, noting it “snowballed” into getting more involved, including helping design and facilitate workshops in St. F.X. residences aimed at educating students on consent and sexual assault.
Last fall, Elbourne served as keynote speaker for the Men’s Annual Respect for Women March and was featured in the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre's initiative 16 Days of Activism on Gender-Based Violence.
“Once you take the step, it becomes easier to keep taking the next one,” he said.
More to come
Elbourne, who will graduate from St. F.X. in the spring, expects to study for two years at Oxford.
“I am excited to just see where things take me. I never, ever could have predicted where I would be, right now, when I started at St. F.X.,” he said.
“I am just going to continue to find mentors and role models who align with my interests and see where it takes me.
“I am sure there will be many more interesting and wonderful experiences to go with that,” Elbourne added.