Elite Athletes On A Winner

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The common theme from a batch of Elite Athlete Program (EAP) students attending a recent graduation lunch was: “I couldn’t have done it without the program.”

Steeplechaser Cheryl Chan (Doctor of Medicine), rower Jamie Ford (BA – International and Government Relations), high jumper Sebastian Gray (LLB), water polo player Christian Kyriakou (BSc – Medical Science), basketballer Alysha Skerritt (Bachelor of Project Management – Software), and long jumper Nick van Gelder (B Commerce – Liberal Studies) all praised the EAP staff for their support in helping them rearrange assignment dates and exam times so they could train and compete.

Cheryl Chan, who completed her final year of Veterinary Medicine working in clinics on the Central Coast, Bondi and Singapore, said the program was vital for her to finish her degree and still compete at a high level. Before COVID arrived, Cheryl set two national steeplechase records when she was working in Singapore, lowering the time to 11 minutes and 14 seconds. “I’ll be graduating in March and I’ve been sponsored to start work at Vets on Crown in Surry Hills,” Cheryl said. “I’ll be competing at the NSW Championships in March and the Australian Nationals in April. I’m hoping to qualify for the South-East Asian Games which will hopefully be held in Hanoi, Vietnam in November. I’m also in training for the cross-country season that starts straight after the Nationals. The EAP was a great help to me while training and competing.”

Long jumper Nick van Gelder agreed. “I wouldn’t be graduating and still training and competing without the assistance the EAP gave me. It’s a great program,” he said.

Van Gelder, whose BCom degree was littered with credits, worked part-time while studying, training and competing.

“I’m starting to look at work options, probably in the agricultural sector,” he said. “I’m going to keep competing for another four or five years with the Sydney University Athletics Club. I’ll be at the NSW Championships in March and at Nationals if they go ahead.

“The EAP got me through the degree – I accessed everything they had to offer, including tutoring, which was excellent, you can’t put a price on that; and sports psychology, which I also found really helpful. The EAP is a no-brainer, it’s probably as good as what is offered at the NSW Institute of Sport.”

Christian Kyriakou is staying on campus to further his studies in a Masters course. “I’m recovering from a shoulder operation from 12 months ago and undertaking physiotherapy. The water polo boys are in pre-season training but I won’t be ready for this season which starts in February,” he said.

Rower Jamie Ford is also going to keep studying too, aiming for a Masters, possibly in international security and global health. “I’ll be able to keep competing for Sydney University while I’m on campus,” she said. “We’ve been training for NSW titles in February and the Nationals in March. I’m hoping to make the Australian Under 23 eight for the World Championships to be held in Czechoslovakia in July-August. They are also subject to the pandemic.”

Jamie said the EAP has been extremely helpful. “I’ve been able to get letters of support for extensions to deadlines when I’ve been competing overseas and training. The tutorials have been beneficial, as has the access to a sports psychologist. The EAP staff have been so helpful and prompt. I’m staying on the program while I study for my Masters.”

Sebastian Gray, who has graduated with a law degree, is applying for positions in the corporate sector. “I’ll continue competing for the Sydney University Athletics Club (SUAC) but I’m not aiming for state or national championships at this stage. I’m happy with what I achieved at SUAC; I love the club and the athletics community.”

Sebastian said the EAP was very helpful while he mixed competition, training and study. “I met a lot of people from different sports and faculties and made friendships. The EAP staff were fantastic and always helping with studies and training flexibility,” he said.

Having graduated and started working in the technology field for CommBank, where she did an internship, Alysha Skerritt has reluctantly had to change basketball clubs. She’s now playing for Norths in the Waratah Basketball League. “I’m not at the Flames level so I had to look further afield than Sydney University,” she said. “The EAP was really good for me; academically I benefited from tutoring and the study spaces and using the gymnasium. I was able to attend two University Games – we won in Perth in 2016 and on the Gold Coast in 2017.”

While the EAP students receive praise and accolades for what they achieve on the sporting field, they should also get the credit they deserve for what they accomplish off it. With sporting commitments impacted heavily by the COVID-19 pandemic and studying being moved completely online, 2020 posed both great challenges and opportunities on the academic front for the 300 student-athletes enrolled at the University of Sydney.

Overall, EAP students performed strongly across the board with 94 per cent earning a satisfactory academic level of achievement (obtaining a pass mark or higher), comparative to 91 per cent in Semester 2, 2019 and 87 per cent in Semester 1, 2019. Impressively, 108 undergraduate students completed the Semester with a Distinction Semester Average Mark (SAM), a major improvement from 49 in Semester 2, 2019, and 79 in Semester 1, 2019, while 22 finished with a High Distinction SAM – an uptick from 18 and 11 in the previous two semesters.

In total, the undergraduate cohort of 270 students earned an impressive 300 distinctions and 193 high distinctions. Student-athletes featured mainly in Arts and Social Sciences (63), Science (60) and Business (50).*

Deborah Fox, the Elite Athlete Program Coordinator, said all the scholarship holders have access to sports psychologists, dietitians and gymnasiums on campus as well as conditioning programs.

“The EAP can also provide one-on-one tutoring in certain academic subjects, but it’s the academic representation that the sports scholarship holders value the most,” Ms Fox said.

“Exam movement and extensions on assignments are the most common areas we provide assistance for students. We have a strong relationship with the Special Consideration Unit at the University.

“Any student can apply for exam movements or extensions on assignments, but with the EAP students they have to be attending training camps or competing at national or international events that coincide with exams or essay dates. That’s where the EAP staff step in to get things changed for the athletes. It saves the EAP students valuable time that they then use for study, training or competing. Time management is key for these students.”

Ed Smith, the Chief Executive Officer of Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness, says the 2020 EAP graduates are a credit to the Sports Scholarship program. “We run the best sports club program in the land, so they need first-class facilities and staff to provide support,” he said. “We want to turn out people who can compete on and off the sporting field.”

The 2020 graduates certainly fit that bill.

*Semester 1 2020 results.