Your sporting chance

Universities offer students a priceless opportunity to stay fit and active, says Olympic silver medallist Heather Fell

April 15, 2010

I know I'm very lucky to have a "job" that I am extremely passionate about, as I've played and loved sport all my life. At school I competed in swimming and running competitions, and as I got older I started to take it more seriously, going on to represent my county.

By the time I went to university I was heavily involved in sport and split my time between being a student and a full-time athlete. I decided to study physiotherapy, feeling that it was a degree that would complement my chosen career.

I left my home in Devon to attend Brunel University between 2001 and 2004 and had a fantastic time, meeting plenty of new people and finding out a lot about myself. But I have to admit that finding the balance between athletics and coursework was a struggle. My course was intense, with a lot of lectures and tutorials, and I spent a great deal of time on placement in hospitals.

At the start of my first term I joined Brunel's swimming, riding and athletics teams. I also decided to take on a completely new sport, and I joined the lacrosse team. I'd played some team sports at school, but I wanted to try something out of my comfort zone. This was a great opportunity, because people of all levels were part of the lacrosse club. Some played purely for fun, and it was nice for me to spend some time away from studying and training for the modern pentathlon.

I believe it's important for everyone at university to take part in sport or regular exercise; it contributes to your general feeling of well-being. It helped me concentrate when I was studying and allowed me to relax and de-stress after a hard day of work. I also found that it helped clear my mind, and allowed me to approach my assignments and coursework with renewed vigour. Playing sport, both for fun and competitively, helped make my university experience a very positive one.

While at university I was able to use facilities that allowed me to carry on training for the sports that make up the modern pentathlon. During my second year at Brunel, I won the World Junior Championships, which was an incredible experience. In addition to my international sporting career, I enjoyed taking part in university sport competitions, with some of my fondest university memories coming from the trips we took around the country, and the sporting socials that followed.

Sporting opportunities for students at universities are very good on the whole, but there is room for improvement in terms of increasing participation levels. As I was already involved in sport, I had the confidence to get involved straight away, even if a particular sport was new to me. But this isn't the case for everyone, and I know some people feel nervous when they first arrive at university as there is so much to take in, understand and participate in.

One of the main issues stopping students from playing sport, I think, is confidence. Many of the people who play lots of sport at school feel intimidated or question their talent and capabilities when they reach university. It is essential that students overcome this barrier and are encouraged to sign up for athletic activities. Apart from the health benefits, sport is a great way for people to make friends and socialise at university.

Even if you're not planning on making a career of your sporting endeavours, taking part in sport at university helps you to establish a healthy attitude towards fitness in your everyday life. One of my good friends started playing korfball at Cardiff University. Although she graduated a few years ago, she still plays the game in her free time.

I honestly believe that there is a sport or exercise class to suit everyone, and I would encourage students to get out there and join in the fun.

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