Class of 2023: It’s never too late to change careers. Just ask Coach Mac

Retired paramedic begins second career with kinesiology degree
Mac Horwood
Mac Horwood became a defensive back coach and equipment manager for the Dinos football team while working on a Kinesiology degree. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

After a 26-year career as a paramedic, Mac Horwood was ready for a change and transitioned to retirement. But this was only the beginning for Horwood. With a lifelong interest in coaching football and sport research, he registered in a kinesiology degree program at the University of Calgary.

After entering the program in 2018, Horwood will be graduating this June with the Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology with honours.

One of the most challenging aspects Horwood anticipated? His age. “The students in my class are only just slightly older than my daughter,” says Horwood.

However, he found only acceptance in the program and at the university. After years of coaching football in the community, Horwood became a defensive back coach and equipment manager for the Dinos football team, coaching up to 40 or 50 hours during the fall football season, and became known as Coach Mac.  

“It was challenging to coach and study, but I wanted to get the most that I could out of my time at university,” says Horwood.

Making the most of university

A few classmates turned to Horwood for advice about how to succeed at university, and he often suggested that students take fewer courses.

“I see these young students try to fire through their degree so they can start their career, but why not take a little more time to explore their interests and really get to know the course material.”

This is the route Horwood chose. Besides coaching, Horwood pushed himself to take courses outside of his faculty and outside his comfort zone including nanoscience and chemistry.

“Even though I hadn’t taken some of the prerequisites for these courses since high school, I enrolled anyways. I was interested in it, and it made me stretch myself, and really work and think,” says Horwood.

Coach Mac

Strategies boost learning

To understand the full scope of the course material, Horwood would do additional research beyond the class assignments.

“Technology has made things so much easier. Previously I used a textbook and took handwritten notes. Now I use programs to convert my notes to text, and so many online resources are available now,” he says. 

Horwood also planned breaks between classes, rather than do them back-to-back so he could spend more time getting to know the course content. This also gave him more time to get to know his professors.

“Professors usually have a long walk back to their office, so if they had the time, I would walk with them, and chat with them about all manner of things. I encouraged other students to get to know their professors. They are so supportive,” says Horwood, noting his professors were one of the best aspects of attending university.

Dr. Saied Jalal Aboodarda, assistant professor in kinesiology, was one of the professors who influenced Horwood.

"Mac Horwood, AKA Coach Mac in my KNES 373, is a role model of someone who never gets tired of scientific discussions nor gives up learning about human health and performance. He is one of the students that my teaching and learning experience with him was totally reciprocal.”  

Discovering a career path

It was in his third year that Horwood began to consider a career in sport medicine.

“I’m interested in preventing injuries. After chats with many of my professors, it started to become clear that a career as a sport medicine doctor might be the best choice for me,” says Horwood.

A career in medicine was not something Horwood planned to pursue after working as a paramedic.

“As a sport medicine doctor, I would focus on preventing injuries, which is quite different than my previous career in emergency medicine — much less stressful,” says Horwood.

He already has potential clients lined up. “The people I coach said to let them know when I get started in a clinic, they will come to see me,” says Horwood with a smile.

Horwood is on his way after getting accepted into the Saint James School of Medicine at St. Vincent in the Caribbean. He begins classes in January of 2024.

Join our celebration, as another class of enterprising UCalgary students graduate and begin to make a difference on society, in fields such as health care, engineering, business and the arts. Read more inspiring stories about the accomplishments and journeys of the Class of 2023.

A note for soon-to-be UCalgary Alumni: As you prepare to transition from student life, we encourage you to check out our Life Kit for Recent Grads — custom-built to inform you about the programs, benefits and services available to you as a member of the UCalgary alumni community.

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