As a former poker dealer, Wendy Warren-Timpano is used to seeing people go all in, but she decided to do it herself with a major life choice.
The 54-year-old Phelpston mom went back to school in 2015 for pre-health classes at Georgian College in Barrie, where her 19-year-old daughter, Cassidy, also happens to be studying civil engineering technology on a basketball scholarship.
While there was trepidation at first, Wendy is now on the final leg is her journey toward becoming a registered practical nurse (RPN). She finished her classroom studies a couple of weeks ago and has moved onto the praxis portion of her program, which includes working 450 hours in a health-care setting.
Last year, Wendy got to share the hallways with Cassidy, a St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School graduate who formerly went to Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School where she shone in multiple sports and also played women's field lacrosse in Orillia.
“We meet for lunch sometimes,” Wendy says.
“Yeah, but only when you want to hang out with me,” Cassidy quips back with a laugh. “She has more friends than me.”
All kidding aside, Cassidy, who has five years of eligibility on the Grizzlies women’s basketball team, says she loves having her mom on campus and nearby.
“She’s my best friend,” says Cassidy, who has just entered her second year of a three-year program. “She’s got all her friends and she’s doing well, and I’m getting by and have my one friend.”
“I think it’s a bit of a role reversal,” Wendy chimes in during an interview with BarrieToday in the Paul Sadlon Centre for Health, Wellness and Sciences at the Barrie campus. “When you’re my age, you realize that life is a lot shorter and it’s a lot harder to get there.”
Wendy’s decision to return to school came following the death of her mother four years ago.
“It was hard, she was my biggest supporter,” she says. “I was in the hospital with her the last two months, because it was a very quick death. The nurses were amazing. It was something she always wanted for me, to do something like that.”
Wendy always had nursing in mind, but didn’t have the proper high-school courses.
“There was never an avenue to get into it,” she says. “I tried a couple of times through the years, but it was like long-distance learning and there was nothing online. It was such a struggle to get there.”
Wendy, who had worked as a card dealer, a hairdresser and ran a horse farm, soon mustered up the strength to try her hand at school again and pursue her nursing dream.
Before Wendy could jump into nursing, though, she had to make up some ground. She enrolled in pre-health courses at Georgian in September 2015, because when she was in high school she “escaped” math and science courses.
“Back in the day, you could drop math after Grade 10,” she says. “And then it haunted me for years. Back then, there were no computers, so you couldn’t go online to take courses like you can now.”
The mother of four with two stepchildren says going back to school was very tough at first.
“It’s the hardest thing I ever did. Physics, chemistry, all of those courses I had avoided,” she says. “And I had to get a certain percentage to get into nursing. I was going to quit every week, but these guys (my children) all kept me going.”
As a mature student, she felt strange in her first year.
“Not smarter, actually I felt the opposite … maybe because I was a bit older and back a generation,” she says. “The kids were great. I was actually the class mom a lot of the times.”
Following first year, the veil lifted. “After that, I realized I was like everyone else and paying my tuition," she says.
In 2016, Wendy entered the practical nursing program at Georgian and worked her way to honours.
“I’ve been the oldest person in my class, by far, in all three years,” she says. “That was hard, because there is ageism out there, but I never knew that before. I was a little bit embarrassed at times, because I thought, ‘Here I am, this old girl in school with all these 18- and 19-year-olds’.”
There were even occasions where Wendy was mistaken for the teacher and students would ask her where she wanted them to sit in the classroom.
Now, as she ticks off the hours on her work placement, Wendy says she knows she made the right decision and wants to be an example to other people who are thinking about returning to school as mature students.
“I just want people to know that, no matter how old you are, there’s always time to go back to school,” she says. “Most people going to back to school at my age have something they’ve always wanted to do, but they were scared to do it.”
Once finished school, Wendy has her sights set on working in palliative cancer care, or possibly mental health.
She thinks of her mom when juggling that decision.
“I want to be that person who makes a difference like they (the nurses) did with me, because it’s such a traumatic time,” she says. “It really boils down to the nurse at the end, when you’re so scared and your loved one’s scared. If you have the right nurse, it makes all the difference.”
In the meantime, Cassidy and Wendy should still see each other around campus as they pursue higher education.
They have yet to do a pub night together, though.
“We’re thinking about it,” says mom.