Relentless Pursuit: Guest Speaker Nathan Chiarlitti

The resume is as remarkable as it is long.

High-achiever. Decorated athlete. OHL player. NHL training camp invitee. Recognition as one of the top student-athletes in North America. Perennial all-star. Winner of the Guy Lafleur Award of Excellence (Quebec university player who best combines hockey achievements with academic accomplishments and citizenship). Author. And the list goes on.

On Monday, May 6, Nathan Chiarlitti '10 visits St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) to speak to student-athletes and parents about facing adversity head-on and repeatedly throughout his life. 

Nathan Chiarlitti attended St. Michael’s College School for four years between 2004-2008, before being drafted into the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

The Maple, Ontario native spent four years at SMCS from 2004-2008, leaving in his grade 10 year after he was drafted into the Ontario Hockey League. It was by far the biggest step, pointing him closer to his life’s dream --- playing in the NHL.

It didn’t happen.

He holds a Master’s of Science in Exercise Physiology from McGill University, and is currently at the University of Ottawa studying to become a physician-scientist.

Here’s our Q&A with Nathan Chiarlitti:

1. What is your central message to students?

Sport can teach you so many life lessons that you might not appreciate in the moment. I’ve been there before, where you’re worried about stats, scouts, or opponents, but when you take a step back and you look at your journey through sport (hockey for me), you recognize that a lot of challenges you see in your everyday life are similar to the things you faced on the court, track, field, or ice.

2. What is the take-away for parents?

There’s so much pressure placed on young athletes to succeed with the end goal (in most cases) of playing professional and making a lifestyle out of the sport. But when you recognize that so few ever play professional, and even fewer are stars that need to work after their careers, it’s evident that sport can be used to open up other doors along life’s journey.

3. What is the biggest of all the challenges you faced and overcame?

I was passed over in three straight NHL drafts from 2010-12, and wasn’t invited to an NHL camp in that span. Finally, after my last year in the OHL, I was invited to the Phoenix Coyotes camp. I tell this story because it parallels my experiences trying to be accepted to medical school. I wasn’t accepted for three years, until finally I received an admission offer. If you want something bad enough, you won’t give up, no matter how many times you’re not successful.

(Photo credit:  McGill University Athletics) Chiarlitti earned the Guy Lafleur Award of Excellence given to the top university hockey player who combines high achievement in hockey, academics and citizenship.

4. What got you through the various hurdles you had to overcome?

I think being determined to not give up was a big motivating factor for me in junior. It reminded me not to stop training or working hard when I was left off certain teams, not given opportunities I thought I deserved, or not selected for NHL drafts or rookie camps. Looking back, I didn’t have one person or one technique that helped me push through the disappointments and challenges, but knowing that I wasn’t going to give up, and understanding if I didn’t put the work in, I might always live with doubt, helped me stay consistent on and off the ice.

5. What have you learned about yourself in the course of facing adversity and striving to overcome it?

If you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen. It’s never more true now I find than with hobbies. I’ve always wanted to learn French or be really good on the guitar, but I don’t want it bad enough. I’m not willing to put in the extra time or go to supplementary classes. On the flip side, in my pursuit of medicine, I was relentless, and even though I had been rejected before, I knew I wouldn’t stop applying until I was accepted.

6. 'Resilience' tends to be a key word today. Did you consider yourself a resilient person prior to the various challenges you faced? If so, why?

I think I did consider myself a resilient person, but to be honest, I didn’t have to overcome any incredible life challenges prior to not being drafted in 2010. I was never cut from minor hockey teams. I didn’t have to deal with abuse or addiction, and I wasn’t in trouble with the law. In that sense, I was a normal hockey player. But I think you don’t really know how resilient you are until things reach their breaking point, and you’re looking down the barrel of a bad situation. That’s when I think you see resilience. 

In March 2019, Chiarlitti released his first book called ‘More Than a Game’.

7. What made you write a book?

Although I was groomed to have a career in the sport, and inevitably didn’t play professional, it wasn’t that my career was a waste. The game taught me so many things that I use every day in the hospital, in academia, and in patient interactions. If players, parents, and coaches can recognize the benefits of what sport can bring to everyday life, then I’ll be a happy man. That’s the sole motivation behind writing my book.
8. How did you go about becoming/being mentally tough?

I think that when you realize life isn’t going to always be perfect, and things won’t always go your way, you understand that you have to be flexible and deal with situations as they come up. No different than in sport when an opponent makes an unexpected play, your teammate makes a mistake, or your coach adjusts the game plan. You have to be willing to sway from plans when you see the situation calls for it.

Chiarlitti played five seasons in the OHL with Sarnia and Owen Sound.

9. In what ways did the way you were raised equip you to face adversity?

My parents always taught me not to feel sorry for myself when things didn’t go my way. I learned quickly that you could either sulk, and send yourself into a deeper hole if you stop working, or feel sorry for yourself, OR you could work harder than you had before, gain experience from the situation, and be a better hockey player/academic/individual. Saying this is easy, doing it in the moment is much more difficult. 

10. In what specific ways did your experience at SMCS impact you?

SMCS laid the foundation for a lot of the lessons hockey and academia helped develop. I remember the expectations, the work commitment, the pride, the time management, the camaraderie. I don’t think I would have hit the ground running quite as well as I did in the OHL without my four years prior at SMCS.

Nathan Chiarlitti visits St. Michael’s College School on Monday, May 6, 2019. He will speak to student-athletes during the day and parents at 7 p.m. His book, called ‘More Than A Game’, was released last month.