Still wearing White and Blue

StFX alumna Margaret Hughes proudly shows off her X-Ring during a break from her busy schedule as the lead performance dietitian with the Toronto Maple Leafs. CONTRIBUTED
StFX alumna Margaret Hughes proudly shows off her X-Ring during a break from her busy schedule as the lead performance dietitian with the Toronto Maple Leafs. CONTRIBUTED

X-Women soccer alumna Margaret Hughes is lead performance dietitian for Toronto Maple Leafs

By Corey LeBlanc

Margaret Hughes had made her decision.

The then soon-to-be high school graduate was going to make her post-secondary home at the University of New Brunswick in Frederiction, where she would study human kinetics and take the pitch for the women's varsity soccer program.

Nevertheless, the native of Timmins in northern Ontario chose to make her other university visit in the Maritimes.

"There was such a great vibe," Hughes remembers of her first time at StFX.

She says she felt an "instant connection" to the Antigonish campus.

"It made me feel safe and comfortable," Hughes adds, in describing how the "small and friendly" place made an immediate impression on her.

It wasn't long before she had a change of heart. 

"Everything other than soccer," Hughes says of what she believed StFX had to offer.

Because she hadn't been recruited, she would have to make the X-Women as a walk-on.

She did just that, and the rest – as they say – is history.

Hughes in action with the X-Women during the 2005 CIS national championship

In five seasons with the White and Blue, Hughes garnered several honors, while becoming a highly-respected leader. She served as an X-Women captain in her final two campaigns, while capturing team MVP in 2008. In that same year, the stellar student-athlete was a finalist for the StFX Community Service Award.

Hughes also spent two seasons with X track and field, where she helped lay the foundation for the successful program under the direction of Lindsay MacKenzie.

While excelling athletically and in the community, Hughes also crossed the Keating Centre stage on two occasions, with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry (2007) and Human Nutrition (2009). She also completed an Integrated Dietetic Internship.

"They will always be near and dear to my heart," Hughes says of the many she became close with while at StFX.

They were not only people in athletics and academics, but also the broader Xaverian and Antigonish communities.

"It is a time in my life that I will never forget – it deeply affected me," Hughes adds.

She recalls it helped lay the groundwork for a career that focused on food security and "educating people on how to eat better."

"Creating community around food," Hughes says, adding it was "so important at StFX."

No matter what she did, she notes everyone was "so willing to help you."

"And, they didn't look for anything in return; they just did it out of the goodness of their hearts," Hughes adds.

With those Xaverian experiences serving as an example, she says she has always made sure to do the same by "sharing her experiences."

"I have always tried to remember what I learned about the importance of giving back," Hughes adds.

'Very, very busy'

As lead performance dietitian with the University of Ottawa, Margaret Hughes led cooking classes for student-athletes, including this one with varsity football players. CONTRIBUTED

After finishing up at StFX, she continued her education at the University of Ottawa, where she completed a Master's in Education. She also earned distinction as a sport dietitian when she completed the internationally-renowned International Olympic Committee's Graduate Diploma in Sport Nutrition.

"It has been very, very busy," Hughes says, with a laugh, when asked about what she has been doing since leaving the Antigonish campus.

For more than a decade, she has amassed extensive experience working with competitive athletes and clubs.

"I more or less created the position," Hughes says of her time as lead performance dietitian at the University of Ottawa.

At the same time, she provided her expertise to the Gatorade Sport Science Institute, as a consultant for Raptors 905 in Toronto, while also leading sports medicine clinics and working for Loblaw Companies Ltd.

While providing her expertise to the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario, one of her colleagues was StFX alumnus Dr. Andrew Cochran. CONTRIBUTED

From there, she moved to the Canadian Sport Institute Ontario, where she shared her knowledge with national-caliber rowers, wrestlers and cyclists that were preparing for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

While helping those world-class athletes reach their potential, the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs approached her, with an offer to become their lead performance dietitian. Now, in her second season with the legendary organization, she is – once again – donning the familiar White and Blue.

"I have been very lucky," Hughes says.

However, even though she acknowledges an element of good fortune – when it comes to her career opportunities, that's doesn't mean she hasn't worked tirelessly, while tapping into the countless skills and lessons learned at StFX, including the benefits of networking.

"Building relationships are so important," Hughes adds.

She marvels at the second-to-none reputation of StFX and its alumni.

"They are very special," Hughes says of graduates from her alma mater.

She adds, with a laugh, "Xaverians are everywhere," and – just like her – there is one thing that makes them easily recognizable.

"It always starts a conversation," Hughes says of the X-Ring she wears proudly.

'Helped my career' 

Along with tackling her academic and professional endeavors, she maintained her connection with the pitch, including playing eight semi-professional seasons in the Ontario Premier League, where she collected a championship with the Barrie Spirit in 2010. She proudly notes she was able to compete at that high level into her early 30s.

After her time with the White and Blue, Margaret Hughes continued playing soccer competitively, including eight seasons semi-professionally in the Ontario Premier League, where she won a league crown with the Barrie Spirit in 2010. CONTRIBUTED

"I am still so passionate about the game," Hughes says.

Playing at that level not only gave her an opportunity to keep those competitive juices flowing, but also maintaining her healthy and athletic lifestyle.

"It has also helped my career – when it comes to relating to all the athletes that I have worked with," Hughes notes.

Because of the example she sets, Hughes says the people she works with "know what I am talking about," when it comes to being a successful athlete and how it is connected to nutrition.

"When I talk about the key role it plays in athletic performance and recovery, they understand that I have experienced it," she adds.

Packing her cleats

No matter where her life path takes her, Hughes agrees StFX is never far from her heart.

"I even got on the stage at the pub," she quips of her last visit to the Antigonish campus.

During that StFX Homecoming – one marking the fifth anniversary of her graduation – Hughes fondly remembers her return to the school's nutrition department and, of course, cheering on the White and Blue at the traditional Saturday afternoon football game.

Most recently, she was among alumni of the StFX women's and men's soccer programs booked to attend a reunion weekend last summer. But – like so many events over the past year or so – the celebration was postponed due to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

"I was really, really looking forward to it," Hughes says.

When the delayed event does take place, she will be there.

"And I will be bringing my cleats – that's for sure," Hughes says, with a laugh.