Back in the last century, I decided that I needed to change my life and stop earning a risky living as a motorcycle courier in London. Aged 26, I felt that I had two options – to train to be a professional mountain guide or go to university.
I chose the latter, and I have never regretted the choice that I made. Going to university changed my life, and I fundamentally believe that providing this opportunity is at the core of all universities’ mission and it is still what gets me out of bed in the morning. But I see students from backgrounds like mine struggling financially, and I wanted to do something to help – to raise money by doing something that was mad enough that people would take notice and put their hands deep in their pockets to raise money for the Aberystwyth University Student Hardship Fund.
So I’ve set myself the formidable challenge of tackling Ironman Wales in Tenby, Pembrokeshire – widely considered to be one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. First, I’ll have to swim 2.4 miles (in Carmarthen Bay, no less), then cycle 112 miles (with 7,000 feet of climbing) before running a full marathon (yes, all 26.2 miles of it). And I’ll have to complete all three without a break, within 17 hours.
I’m confident that I will start it, but at 56, finishing is definitely open to question. Not surprisingly then, I’ve spent the past six months finding time in my schedule for some challenging training – and there’s more of that to come.
It can be tough, but I’m lucky that I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country so I get to train in a stunning landscape. I’m also being driven by my ambition. I wasn’t able to attend university after I finished school because I needed to get a job to help support my parents and siblings. When I eventually reached university, it changed my life for the better, and I’m determined that others are given similar opportunities to reach their full potential – irrespective of their background.
And that’s what the Student Hardship Fund is all about. It’s a scheme that allows the university to offer financial support to students who find themselves in serious financial difficulties through no fault of their own.
Like many institutions, we have an annual vice-chancellor’s charity (we’re supporting Mind this year) as well as numerous other fundraising activities. Undertaking a challenge such as this proves to colleagues that vice-chancellors are human, too. I hope that by showing I can make the time to prepare for this event, colleagues will be inspired to look after themselves that little bit better and start taking some exercise – it’s the best remedy for stress that I have found.
Finishing Ironman is without doubt a tough ask, but I hope that my determination and motivation will carry me through. I’m lucky to have a good team behind me here at Aberystwyth. Fitness instructors from our sports centre and sports scientists from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences have put together a training schedule to make sure that I accumulate more than 500 hours of training before I take on Tenby on 18 September.
I’m determined to raise as much as I can to open doors and help raise money so that others can have the benefit of the Aberystwyth student experience. Your support is very much appreciated. You can donate and follow my progress on social media and on my microblog, where I will also be keeping video diaries.
John Grattan is acting vice-chancellor of Aberystwyth University.