Distance Allows Students To Juggle Study With Elite Sport

Massey University student Ben Barclay responded to my interview request from Innsbruck, Austria where he’s on tour again following the Winter Olympics in Beijing. This is typical for high-performance athletes, who seem to spend more time out of the country than in.

It must be an interesting challenge, I thought, trying to juggle the training commitments of an elite athlete with study while, often, being on the other side of the world.

I wanted to know what demands their sport placed on them, and how they handled those demands while studying. So, I asked our 2022 Winter Olympics competitor students what it was like to compete at that level while studying at Massey University.

My impression was that a typical week involved a lot of skiing, which was confirmed by Bachelor of Psychology student Cool Wakushima, who competed at Beijing in the slopestyle event.

“I usually go up the mountains to train every weekday from around 9am till 2-2:30pm.”

Bachelor of Business student and halfpipe competitor Chloe McMillan, Ngāpuhi, says, apart from training camps, the target was four days per week. But it isn’t all ‘smooth sailing’, or skiing.

“We deal with weather so sometimes when snowstorms happen my actual training in the halfpipe could only be 1-2 days.”

To complement the technical training they do, athletes have fitness a regime that is designed to keep them in shape and avoid injury.

As Chloe says, “I spend a lot of my energy and time on strength and balance training to minimise as much on snow risk of getting injured as possible.”

Ben, who is also studying for a Bachelor of Business, has a similar approach. “We mainly just focus on being as strong as we can to perform these tricks and prevent injury.”

Cool is conscious to balance the fitness training with the technical practice.

“Throughout the season we have about 2-3 gym sessions a week to keep ourselves fit but also not overdo our work since we’re on snow.”

So this is all starting to add up a real time commitment. How do the students manage to fit in a study schedule as well, particularly if they are operating from the wrong side of the clock?

They all take advantage of the flexibility they get from the distance learning zoom sessions as it allows them to attend the lectures around their training as Cool explains.

“I have been lucky enough to join zoom lectures on my own time. Basically they record the lectures and I can play them on my own time.”

Ben says the University has been helpful with allowing him more flexibility for assignment submission, especially during the busy Olympics qualifying period last year.

Cool also sees the benefits of her of sports psychology study and says it was helpful for her mental preparation for competing.

“This was actually quite helpful during competition and training since snowboarding takes a lot of mental preparation before dropping in.”


This story first appeared in Massive Magazine on 28 March 2022

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