Dec. 11, 2023

UCalgary Graduate Blends Sport and Law with Award-Winning Results

Wilma Shim receives 2023 Lexpert Rising Star Award honouring leading lawyers under 40.
Wilma Award

What started with a Chancellor’s Scholarship to pursue a career in sports medicine has led Wilma Shim to an award-winning career in law.

Shim, BSc’07, JD’10, was recently named a 2023 recipient of a Lexpert Rising Star Award (LRSA), honouring leading lawyers under 40 working for law firms, in-house departments and other practices in Canada. She says she considers herself an “unlikely” candidate for the honour, as she is a University of Calgary faculty lecturer rather than a corporate litigator.

“I worked for the government for 10 years, I'm on the Alberta Human Rights Commission and I am teaching, so I don't really fit the mould of the recipients of this award,” says Shim, who attended the awards ceremony in Toronto in late November. “Most of them are corporate lawyers and partners at the really big firms. I felt a little out of place compared to those with a more corporate focus.”

But following her passion with a willingness to break the mould is simply who Wilma is, and what she does.

From Kinesiology to the Courtroom

In 2003, while studying for her bachelor’s degree at the Faculty of Kinesiology, Shim was one of 10 students awarded a Chancellor’s Scholarship one of UCalgary’s most highly esteemed awards.    

“It really all started with the Chancellor’s Scholarship,” says Shim, who grew up in Edmonton. “That opened doors to allow me to come to Calgary without the financial burden of tuition and books. I wanted to do [kinesiology] because of the high-profile program that UCalgary has.” That, and because of Calgary’s reputation as an Olympic city.

Shim was also inspired by her own interests as a competitive power lifter, a sport which she would pursue throughout her undergraduate studies, all the way to an international stage. She represented Canada at the 2007 World Junior Powerlifting Championships, where she won a bronze medal for deadlifting.

She was a student when her faculty changed its name from the Faculty of Physical Education to the Faculty of Kinesiology. One of the first of its kind in Canada, the faculty was quickly recognized for its excellence in research, education, and its contributions to the field of kinesiology and sports sciences.

“When I first started [at UCalgary], I was set on becoming a sports doctor,” says Shim of her initial aspirations. “I was going to be the doctor for the Canadian Olympic team and help the athletes. That was the initial goal and plan, but, of course, things change.”

What changed for Shim during that time was a growing an interest in policy, procedures and governance through her work as the faculty representative for Kinesiology on the Students’ Union. This, combined with the influence of seeing her father’s successful career as a corporate commercial lawyer back in Edmonton, was enough to prompt her pursuit of a law degree after finishing her BSc. She found she had developed an “affinity for the presentation aspect of law, particularly in the courtroom,” which led her to envision a career as a Crown prosecutor.

In 2010, Shim graduated from the Faculty of Law and was awarded the President’s Award for Excellence in Student Leadership. That same year, she was inducted to the Order of the University of Calgary. What would follow would be more than a decade serving with the government as a Crown prosecutor,  barrister and solicitor. While building this career, at just 29 years old, she was recognized as one of the Avenue Top 40 Under 40 award-recipients for 2015.

Kinesiology and Law Come Full Circle

Shim’s career has been filled with various opportunities that have allowed her to truly explore different facets of law, education and sports. She became a member of the Alberta Human Rights Commission in 2021 around the time she started her new career as an instructor at the same law school she attended.

“It all came about very organically,” says Shim. “I remember having a conversation with Dr. Penny Werthner, who was dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology at the time, and we chatted about the Caster Semenya case in South Africa.” 

The Semenya case was highly significant and controversial legal matter within the realm of sports, particularly in track-and-field athletics. Semenya, a South African middle-distance runner and Olympic gold medallist, faced scrutiny and legal challenges regarding her eligibility to compete in women's events due to her naturally high levels of testosterone.

“I was saying, you know, there's so many legal issues with this case. What if we had a course related to it?” says Shim, who, with the support of both faculties of Law and Kinesiology and their leadership, including Law Dean Ian Holloway and Dr. Werthner, developed one of the most unique courses of its kind in sports law, combining her expertise in the legal field, and her ability to identify educational opportunities in real-world, topical issues in sport, to create a class that is unique and all her own – Law 693.09 Sports Law. Her multi-faceted experiences have led her to where she is today — a seasoned educator teaching law and sports-related courses to the next generation of young law students.

“I do a lot of sports volunteering, with Special Olympics, advising executive directors, governance issues, and bylaws.,” says Shim.

The dedication and determination which fuelled her passion for sports is a value she continued to carry forward, first into the legal realm and now to UCalgary.

“It's funny to mention a full circle, because my current lecture location for KNES 503.90 Sport and Law class is in KNB 126 [in Kinesiology Block B],” says Shim. “I can actually remember being a student in that very room where they were talking about goal setting, and I can even remember where I was sitting.”

Aside from the knowledge she looks to impart on her students, Shim also aims for them to take away a connection to the current news and timely, human, real-life topics as they relate to law in sport.

“I want to incorporate legal concepts that are happening in the news and so that students can sort of appreciate and understand what's happening, what's the background, who the decision makers are, what can athletes do?” says Shim. “I try to do that for every class, have topics that are always about human rights in sport, law in sports and sports arbitrations. There's always a current news element that I like to incorporate for student interest.”

Paying it Forward

Shim’s commitment to paying it forward and her dedication to fostering an engaging learning environment for her students shows in her passion for what she does. You can see her enthusiasm for teaching goes beyond traditional lectures, with an aim to facilitate discussions that encourage critical thinking, engagement with real-world events and issues, and a broader perspective on how those events can influence sports and the law.

“I think it’s so important the UCalgary law school has a curriculum that aims to introduce real law experience, not just academic discussion,” says Shim.

She encourages students to think outside the confines of the course, enriching their academic experience while equipping them with the ability to navigate and analyze various situations they might encounter in their careers or in broader discussions. Her proactive approach to creating an environment that encourages students to broaden their horizons and think critically is unto itself a way of paying it forward; a way of inspiring the next generation of thinkers to see themselves as unique collections of experiences and knowledge. And for her it’s another case of her life coming full circle. 

“The way that I see it is that the university provided me such a big opportunity with the Chancellor's Scholarship, and that opened so many doors for me.” says Shim. “I would love to be able to give back in any way that I can.”

Shim’s perspective is that a course like she has created might only happen in a young institution like UCalgary, a place with a certain flexibility and openness to innovation is what allowed for the creation of new programs, courses and initiatives like hers that she might not get the chance to see to fruition in more traditional-thinking institutions.

“I think with a young institution you also have that opportunity where you're not set in a certain way,” says Shim. “You're not like, ‘It's always been done this way; therefore, we can't change it.’ [UCalgary] is more open to something new, something a little bit fresher like sports law.”

Shim remains one of the true rising stars of her profession and the accolades have continued to pour in. As an award-winning athlete, lawyer and educator, it makes sense that Shim would remain committed to creating an environment that encourages students to broaden their horizons. But, aside from inspiring the next generation of thinkers and professionals in sports law, what is next for the always-evolving instructor, who on top of everything else is also a Master of Laws candidate?

“I thought I had peaked because I got Top 40 Under 40 for Calgary when I was 29 and I remember feeling like that was sort of the pinnacle,” says Shim, comparing the 2015 accolade to her latest award. “I'm just grateful for the recognition. Some people don't even get to this stage, so I'm just very grateful having a family that has grounded me and given me a different perspective.”

She also reflects upon the support of Dr. Werther and Dean Holloway throughout her time as a student and in her career, including Dean Holloway's nomination of her for the Lexpert Award.

“I just hope to continue to be involved in the sport-law space and just be that person that you can be curious and ask questions and discuss with and be that subject-matter expert,” Shim says. “I would love to be that person in Calgary.”