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Hidden talents

A balloon artist, a ‘death’ marathoner, a wood worker and an all-weather swimmer (with an Olympic-level pedigree!)

Campus and Community

By Mandy Cook

What do you like to do when you’re not on the clock?

Many of us in the Memorial community have multiple interests — some amounting to simple hobbies or pastimes to full-on passion projects.

Read on to learn about four of your Memorial colleagues from the Faculty of Business Administration, Information Technology Services, the Office of Development and the Faculty of Nursing and what they get up to in their off hours.

Diane Guzzwell

A number of years ago while on a cross-America train trip, Diane Guzzwell had a couple of hours to kill in New Orleans, La.

NOLA, as the locals call it, is famous for its street performers. Ms. Guzzwell happened upon a balloon artist tying balloons in the French Quarter.

She says she was “hooked.”

Diane Guzzwell is holding a number of balloon figures, including a candy cane, Grinches and flowers.
Diane Guzzwell with some of her balloon creations.
Photo: Submitted

When asked why, the decanal assistant in the Faculty of Business Administration says it makes people happy and that people of all ages love balloons.

“I think they bring out your inner child. It’s light-hearted and fun, something everyone needs these days.”

Ms. Guzzwell says she mostly ties balloons of animals, flowers and people – Elvis was a “challenge” – but that she’ll try anything. Flowers are her favourite, though, as there are many varieties of designs.

She built her skills by watching beginner balloon-tying YouTube videos. Then, she tried advanced videos and was surprised to find that she could do them.

A bouquet of flowers made of balloons.
Flowers are a favourite of Ms. Guzzwell’s.
Photo: Submitted

This season, she will branch out from tying balloons for friends and family to Christmas events. She is volunteering at the Shriner’s Hospital children’s party this month. Ms. Guzzwell, who is from St. John’s, says one of her favourite parts about balloon tying is people’s expressions, especially the wee ones.

“I enjoy seeing children’s faces light up when they see you twisting balloons and how much they appreciate them,” she said. “Adults like them too, especially flower bouquets.”

But when it comes to her key audience, she says she has a strategy.

“For large groups of children, something simple is best. You don’t want them waiting.”

Interested in getting in touch with Ms. Guzzwell? Contact her at 709-769-2607 or dwistied@gmail.com.

Wayne Walsh

When Wayne Walsh says he’s “very” competitive, he means it.

A systems administrator with Information Technology Services, Mr. Walsh has competed in six ultra, a.k.a. death, marathons.

Wayne Walsh in running gear on rocky terrain with trees in the background and a bright blue sky.
Wayne Walsh during the East Coast Trial Ultra on Oct. 29, holding onto first place coming into Middle Cove beach off of Silver Head Mine Path.
Photo: Submitted

However, he says that unlike his lifelong involvement in team sports, the ultra marathon is actually more about competing against his own capabilities.

“There’s a unique satisfaction that comes from surpassing what you think is not possible or extremely difficult,” said Mr. Walsh, who grew up in Dunville, but now calls Paradise home.

While his first official attempt at a 43-kilometre ultra race in Terra Nova National Park in 2019, the following year he attempted his first 100 kilometre-plus race — against himself.

Setting a goal of the fastest known time for the East Coast Trail North section, he started at Topsail Beach, went north around Cape St. Francis and south to Quidi Vidi. You can see Mr. Walsh’s official record of 18 hours, 40 minutes and 51 seconds on the Fastest Known Time website.

“It was a huge personal achievement, given how technical and difficult the terrain is on that section. After surviving that, I knew I could do larger challenges with the proper training.”

Last summer, Mr. Walsh went a little further afield for his next extreme marathon experience.

Wayne and Courtney Walsh hug, both wearing active wear. There is a crowd and tents in the background, with mountains in the far background.
Mr. Walsh and his wife, Courtney, near the starting line of the Canadian Death Race in Grand Cache, Alta.
Photo: Submitted

He signed up for the Canadian Death Race: 117 kilometres through the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains outside of Grand Cache, Alta.

The event requires participants to climb more than 1,000 meters, with elevation gains topping 4,500 meters, and to deal with the associated atmospheric changes. It attracts some of the top trail runners in Canada.

After seven months of training, Mr. Walsh finished ninth overall and second in the 40-plus division.

“This was a huge confidence boost. I felt I was ready to push myself in my next races here at home.”

Next up?

He’s registered for La Sportiva Lavaredo Ultra Trail in June 2023. It involves 125 kilometres of trail with more than 5800 metres in elevation gain through the dolomites in northern Italy.

Chris Hounsell

What do you do when you are unsatisfied with the quality of furniture found in a store?

You build it yourself.

Chris Hounsell stands next to and holds onto a wooden shelving unit.
Chris Hounsell with one example of his handiwork.
Photo: Submitted

That’s what Chris Hounsell, alumni engagement officer (reunions) in the Office of Alumni Engagement does.

His preference is making freestanding furniture such as book and display cases, flower stands and side tables, but he has also made items ranging from built-in shelves to wine racks and bed frames to game accessories.

Mr. Hounsell says after a busy day of the office, working with his hands functions is therapeutic and creative.

A three-tiered wooden shelf with plants in multiple colour flower pots on it.
The plant stand Mr. Hounsell made from wood from his step-father’s house.
Photo: Submitted

The Gander native also likes the ability to be sustainable – using existing materials and reworking them into something useful and meaningful. For example, he recently built a flower stand for his mother.

She and his step-father had recently torn down his step-father’s childhood home. Mr. Hounsell salvaged a few pieces of wood from the site and made a rustic-looking plant stand.

“I love the idea that a piece of the house still lives on in their home,” he said.

Another favourite is a piece of wall art he built about a year ago that hangs in his dartboard room. While simple in design, he says it means a lot to him.

His father passed away almost three years ago this month. He was a welder/mechanic by trade; Mr. Hounsell took care of his estate when he died.

A wooden board shaped as a key covered in real keys.
Mr. Hounsell’s father’s key collection reinvented as a wall hanging.
Photo: Submitted

Over the years, his father accumulated a large pile of unorganized keys from all the vehicles and wrecks he owned.

While cleaning out his father’s belongings, every time he needed a key for something, Mr. Hounsell had to sort through hundreds of keys in a large jar.

“I created a large wooden key cut out and I filled it in with all these leftover keys and now have it displayed on the wall in my garage as reminder of him.”

Interested in getting touch with Mr. Hounsell? Contact him at chounsell@gmail.com.  

Dr. Paula Kelly

1980.

It’s a year Dr. Paula Kelly won’t forget.

The assistant professor in the Faculty of Nursing made the Canadian Olympic swimming team, but a fraught global political situation dashed her hopes.

Canada and a number of other western countries boycotted the Moscow-based games due to Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

A swimmer next to a low wooden boat in the ocean with sheer cliffs in the background.
Dr. Paula Kelly participating in the Tickle Swim for Mental Health between Bell Island and Portugal Cove.
Photo: Submitted

“Every time the Olympics roll around, I always wonder what if, what would I have done if I did compete in Moscow all those years ago,” said Dr. Kelly, who is from St. John’s.

In any case, instead of Russia, she represented Canada at an international competition in Hawaii, where she won a bronze medal, and then a gold medal in Japan.

“Other western countries who boycotted the Olympics were also competing in these meets,” she said. “I basically spent that summer travelling and competing.”

She says she loves swimming because she can escape into a world that feels free, focus on her breathing, feel the water against her skin and feel weightless.

While exercise of all kinds has been a constant in Dr. Kelly’s life from a very young age, she says nowadays she swims to maintain both her physical and mental health.

Dr. Paula Kelly is barely visible in the far distance of a pond that is partially frozen over. There are low buildings in the distance.
Dr. Paula Kelly taking a winter dip in Long Pond on the St. John’s campus.
Photo: Submitted

And not just in indoor pools; she says that swimming in open water like ponds and in the ocean provides her with particular health benefits.

“I’ve discovered the benefits of cold water,” she said. “I “dip” all year round. I often go to Long Pond or Topsail Beach during winter months. If Long Pond is frozen with thick ice, I will head to the ocean for a 5-8 minute icy dip. The icy dips really helped me while I was finishing up my PhD. It gives me lots of energy, helps clear my thoughts and makes me laugh!”


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