Thirteen years, five national competitions and one determined homeschooler
Lily-ann Ulmer’s story of competitive sports and scholastic success

At just thirteen years old, [email protected] student Lily-ann Ulmer has already performed in five national competitions, three times for halfpipe snowboarding and twice for trampoline and tumbling (T&T) gymnastics. Her athletic pursuits have taken her south of the border and across the ocean to train and compete, and she attributes her success largely to the freedom of homeschooling.

Being schooled at home has given Lily-ann an outlet to outperform both athletically and academically. The remoteness of her studies allows her to see the world and still keep her grades up, but she did not begin a homeschooling career because of her interest in sports.

“We pulled her out of school in grade four,” says Lisa Ulmer, Lily-ann’s mother. “She was at the top of her class, but she wasn’t happy. In school, if you’re smart and you’re doing well, no one feels like they need to enrich your experience. They have to focus on the kids who are struggling.”

It was during this transition that Lily-ann discovered the freedom of a home education schedule, and her passion for halfpipe snowboarding skyrocketed. She began arranging her schoolwork around training, and has now competed in multiple local and national competitions, travelling to Switzerland just one year ago to continue her training during the fall semester. Lily-ann is now placed fourth in all of Canada for women’s halfpipe snowboarding.

In addition to her success on the halfpipe, Lily-ann also cites 2020 as her best year for T&T gymnastics. Before COVID-19 cut the season short, she was on track to qualify for the Indo Pacific Championships and was scheduled to take numerous trips into the States and across Canada to train and compete as well.

“She would not be able to do both sports if she were in a campus school,” Lisa says, explaining her daughter’s daily routine. “With homeschooling, she’ll do school in the morning, training in the afternoon, and then a few more hours of school in the evening.”

Though other students Lily-ann’s age are just finishing up eighth grade, she is already working on some high school courses and is on track to graduate at least one year early. She plans to use this time to explore her options in secondary education.

“We really enjoy homeschooling with [email protected] because we can pick our curriculum and most of it is Christian-based,” says Lisa. Currently, Lily-ann is taking one high school course through ADLC, and next year she plans to supplement her homeschooling with online courses offered through [email protected]’s new Shared Responsibility program.

In addition to getting ahead scholastically and finding time to pursue her athletic potential, homeschooling has also allowed Lily-ann the opportunity to advance in other extracurricular activities. She enjoys art class, especially sketching and using water colours, and has participated in four years of Daniel Allers’s History Alive. This interactive program gave her the opportunity to connect with other students and enrich her historical learning experience.

“The best part about homeschooling is the freedom I get to travel and do my sports and school all at the same time,” Lily-ann says. Since her schedule is so heavy when she is training, she does not have time to add optional courses to her core curriculum during the school year. As a result, she completes extra courses that she is interested in during the summer, such as psychology.

Along with Lily-ann, Lisa also has a daughter named Hannah, who is a choreographer and entrepreneur, and a son Benjamin, who is currently writing his thesis for a master’s in computer science. The Ulmers moved to Calgary in 2001, but have been able to travel across the country, into the States and over the Atlantic Ocean to attend competitions and training.

“School is not everything and sports are not everything,” Lisa says. “You want to always have time for family and that’s what schooling at home allows us to do.”

The flexibility that homeschooling provides allows Lily-ann to balance her sports and education without borders and with the constant support of her family. Lisa says she gives her daughter the option of going back to campus school every year, but Lily-ann has no interest in returning.

Hannah (left), Tim (second to left), Lily-ann (middle), Lisa (second to right), and Benjamin (right) stand together during their family Easter celebration. Calgary, April, 2020.

Written by Alixx Hettinga

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