In mid-November of last year, I stood waiting in-line in Birmingham Symphony Hall, listening for the Dean of the Open University to call my name. That moment represented the culmination of years of hard work, commitment, support and, most of all, learning.  Having left 6th form to pursue a career as a professional cyclist, I didn’t think that going to university and pursuing Higher Education was something I would ever find myself doing. However, on that day in November, I was incredibly glad that I did and this blog will hopefully encourage you to appreciate that nothing is ever out of the question. If it does anything, though, I really hope that it inspires you to believe in yourself and know that you are most likely capable of doing more, knowing more, and being more than you think. 

After completing my GCSE’s I began completing my A Levels, I chose some subjects I thought I enjoyed but I watched people around me know what degrees they wanted to do and at what University, I had no clue. I left school after my first year of A levels to become a cyclist. At that point I thought the chance of me ever going to University was gone, it wasn’t something I would do.

During my cycling career, I realised that cycling wouldn’t last forever and, to continue making progress and to be able to access the career path that interested me, I probably needed to obtain an undergraduate degree. Initially, I approached the prospect of university with caution, worried that “it wasn’t for me”. By that, I mean I was worried that I wouldn’t be any good at university and that because I didn’t go in the conventional way after finishing my A levels, knowing exactly what I wanted to in life that University wasn’t for me, that I was too old and didn’t hold the skills that you needed to complete a degree.

However, with encouragement from people around me, I gave it a go. Don’t get me wrong university was tough, I did it part time around my life, fitting in learning, tutorials and writing assignments. For a lot of my degree I still was convinced I wasn’t intelligent enough but I was wrong. The more I did the better I got and the more skills I picked up, with help from The University and my tutors, my grades improved and I began to enjoy my degree even more. I chose an Open Degree which allowed me to find what interested me and what I wanted to learn more about as I moved through my degree.

My undergraduate degree took me 6 years to complete. Within that period of time, I managed to compete at the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games and numerous European and World Championships. Before enrolling at Uni, the prospect of juggling university with my cycling career seemed an impossible task but, with a clear purpose behind it, I just made it work and fit my schedule. 

I dare say sometimes you have had lots of people ‘pushing’, or encouraging, you to aim towards Uni. Whilst it isn’t the only way to be successful, it definitely is something that will help you grow as a person and the skills you will develop are so important. I worry that some young people don’t have enough confidence in themselves, or worry that they aren’t good enough like I did. My advice to you is this; 

  • Be honest about what you want to do in life and what career really interests you? 
  • Speak to teachers, parents and carers about the options available to you. 
  • Identify the qualifications that you might need. 
  • Maximise every opportunity in front of you. 
  • Remember that good things come to people who work hard. 

Most importantly through my University journey, I learnt that you are capable of more than you think, and it’s never too late to pursue what you want to do in life. I walked across the stage in the Symphony hall while they called Emily Kay Bsc, prouder than I have ever been of myself, and I wish 17-year-old me could have seen it.


Written by
Emily Kay (Sport 4 Life UK Ambassador)