Amber Whalen proves listening to her intuition and grabbing a pair of scissors can lead to a gold medal.
The Grade 11 Belmont student placed first in the Skills Canada regional competition for hairdressing in Naniamo on March 4. That earned her a spot in the provincial championships in Abbotsford next week.
“I cried a lot, and I don’t cry easily,” said Whalen, 16, who has only studied cosmetology at Belmont since September.
For a student to come out on top with less than six months training is unusual, and she wasn’t even supposed to compete.
Belmont cosmetology teacher Rachel Sandberg had already chosen two Grade 12 students for the event.
Following a hunch, Whalen asked to tag along and support her teammates, but she made sure to bring her scissors, just in case.
When they arrived there was an empty station and Sandberg received permission for Whalen to compete too. With three minutes to prepare her station, she was ready to go.
Each of the 12 competitors from the lower Island were given five hours to finish the two-part test of skills.
First, each student had to perform a ladies cut and color on a mannequin head. Whalen created a deconstructed angled bob for her cut. It was two separate haircuts on one head, Sandberg explained.
For the second part, using another mannequin head, each student created a ladies’ updo. For this assignment Whalen braided the hair in corn rows with a backcombed side ponytail.
“It was a mix of texture and it was modern,” Sandberg said of the winning cut and colour.
“This shows my family I am actually good at this and that it’s something I want to do,” Whalen said.
“The course is life skill based. We talk about people skills and customer service here too,” Sandberg said.
Learning how to work with people in class may come in to use now that Whalen is working in a salon. After winning gold, she landed an internship at Twist Salon on Bear Mountain for work experience.
“This course helps kids and now they are able to say ‘this is what I want to do and I already know a lot of stuff,’” Sandberg said.
With a gold medal proudly displayed, Whalen is now readying herself to go for the gold at provincials on April 20.
“She won a gold metal, she is the best in the region,” said Dave Betts, assistant superintendent of Sooke School District.
Hairdressing has been offered as a provincial competition for years, but this is the first time it has been offered at the regional level on the lower Island.
Success at provincials could lead to Whalen attending national and international competitions, Betts said.
The Skills Canada competition includes a multitude of trades, including carpentry and hairdressing. Skills Canada is a part of the organization Skills International.
“It certainly promotes students looking at (trade) careers as an option of employment,” Betts said.