A breath of fresh air

Gymnast Beth Tweddle found university helped her become a well-rounded person and taught her time management

May 27, 2010

Being involved in sport, and in particular gymnastics, has always been an important part of my life. I was seven when I began attending local gym classes and I was quickly recognised as having potential talent. By the time I reached secondary school, I was training several days a week and competing regularly for my club.

With my increasing training schedule, going to university was like a breath of fresh air for me; despite loving gymnastics, studying gave me another avenue in my life to focus on, and it also helped me learn skills such as good time management, which was key for my lifestyle at the time.

During my second and third years I lived with other students who were extremely sporty. My housemates were Rachel Brown, goalkeeper for the England women's football team, Martyn Bernard, the high jumper, and Martin Ainscough, who plays rugby league for the Widnes Vikings. It was great for me to live with these guys because we all shared the same sporting ambitions, and could also empathise with each other as we all desperately juggled our sporting careers with being full-time students.

I graduated from Liverpool John Moores University with a 2.1 degree in sports science in 2007, and I am now reading health studies at the University of Liverpool. I've been lucky that both of my universities have been very supportive of my training, and I think that being able to go the gym and train regularly has had a positive impact on my studying - it gives me the head space to think things through before I tackle an assignment, for example, or an exam.

With all my focus on gymnastics, I didn't play as much team sport as I would have liked during my first degree, but a lot of my friends did just for fun and they had a brilliant time, both on and off the pitch. I think that sport is such a great ice-breaker, especially when people start living in a new city, or move away from home for the first time to go to university.

I do think that there is room for improvement, in terms of encouraging people to take part in sport at university. It would be nice to see more people who haven't had much experience of sport in the past start something new while they have the opportunity and facilities available to them. I know that some people find playing sport at university intimidating because they feel they're not good enough, but this isn't the case at all. There are lots of different sporting activities available for students, and funding rounds such as Active Universities from Sport England help universities to open doors to students who just want to enjoy getting fit and the social side of sporting life, as well as those wishing to excel.

Although gymnastics has always been my main priority, going to university has definitely helped me become a well-rounded person, and once I do eventually retire from gymnastics, I'm looking forward to the exciting new opportunities that my degrees will make available to me.

Beth Tweddle recently won two gold medals and one silver medal at the 2010 European Championships, becoming only the second person in history to win double European golds two years in a row. She is supporting Sport England's Active Universities campaign: www.sportengland.org/funding.

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