Engineer chases Olympic dreams and a PhD
Joseph Veloce is bracing for the most important day of his young life.
Friday, the 23-year-old will cross the stage at Hamilton Place and receive his undergraduate degree from the Faculty of Engineering.
Within 24 hours, he'll also find out if he earned the final spot on the Canadian Olympic track cycling team. Nerves are high, to say the least.
The fact that he's even graduating from McMaster is a testament to Veloce's work ethic and determination.
For the past five years, the native of Fonthill has balanced a difficult academic course load with an increasing number of commitments all over the globe - including trips to China, Columbia, Mexico and Australia to compete with the Canadian national cycling team.
Attending class is usually not an option, but that hasn't slowed him down one bit.
"I'm primarily based in Los Angeles right now, and I'm only really on campus for finals," said Veloce, who's currently in the midst of his last remaining Olympic trials. "Most of my learning has been done through textbooks or learning notes."
He became enamored with the sport eight years ago, after watching track cyclist Lori- Ann Muenzer capture a gold medal for Canada at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. He asked his mother if he could give the sport a try, and within a year was experimenting with fixed-gear bicycles at the Forest City Velodrome in London, Ont.
"I went to the track a couple of times, and one of the managers there saw some natural talent in me," said Veloce. "He encouraged me to come back and keep training."
Flying around the track at speeds upwards of 80 km/h, riders must pump their legs up to 200 revolutions per minute using only one gear setting. Competitive races are held on an oval circuit with two straightaways and two steep banked turns, called "super- elevations". There are no brakes to squeeze if anything starts to go wrong at top speed.
"I don't think people realize how technical it really is," said Veloce, who with each race has increased his profile on the international scene.
When athletics became a high priority mid-way through his undergraduate degree, the Faculty of Engineering allowed Veloce to move across the continent and continue his studies part-time. It hasn't always been easy, but you'd never know it based on his academic achievements.
In addition to completing his degree in electrical engineering, Veloce was one of three finalists from McMaster vying for a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, along with Holden Sheffield and Sheiry Dhillon (who will be attending the University of Oxford this fall).
Finalists for the scholarship were required to submit a 900-word personal essay along with their transcripts and resumes, and were interviewed by a panel of seven academics during the final admission process.
"Writing the essay and then preparing for the interview, you have to think through some big questions," said Veloce. "Questions you don't ask yourself on a regular basis."
Veloce will be asking some even bigger questions later this summer, when he begins a PhD in electrical engineering at the University of Southern California - conveniently located less than 20 minutes from his training facility.
For the time being, however, it's all about celebrating his academic successes at McMaster with family and friends, and waiting patiently for the phone to ring.