Among the international line-up of athletes en route to the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next week will be two students from Heriot-Watt University.
Lisa Aitken and Alex Short will compete for Team Scotland in squash and judo, respectively, when the Games get underway on 28 July 2022.
Both are enrolled onto Heriot-Watt's Sports Scholarship programme providing them access to a high-performance training environment at Oriam, Scotland's Sports Performance Centre at Heriot-Watt's Edinburgh campus, whilst continuing with their academic studies.
Our sports scholarships are designed to embed a high-performance training environment into a sports scholar's weekly schedule and it is truly a special feeling to see two of our students compete at an international level whilst being fully supported in their academic studies.
For 32-year-old Lisa, this will be her third Commonwealth games after competing in Delhi and on the Gold Coast. She spends a lot of time travelling between training and competitions, and it was typically while sitting at an airport that she received the call she had been waiting for.
She explains: “The national coach gave me a call which was such a relief because even though I'm the highest ranked female player and number one in Scotland, there was no guarantee that meant I was going to go.”
For Alex, a Marine Biology student who will graduate later this year, this will be his Games debut. It is a dream come true for the 25-year-old who was at home when he got his call.
“Luckily the team manager is also one of my coaches, so it was quite an easy chat,” he said.
“Obviously, I was pretty excited, but I kind of knew that I was already going to be selected because I had met the selection criteria.”
Any Commonwealth Games year can be a challenge for athletes aiming for selection, but the preparations for this year have had the additional complications of Covid-19; impacting training, travel, competitions and of course, academic studies.
The biggest challenge for Alex, has been managing his schedule for training, competitions and his final year studies.
“It's been a nightmare with testing, isolating and then, you know, getting COVID and training getting shut down for a couple of weeks,” he continues.
“And then on top of that, all the things going on at uni. It's my fourth and most intense year and it kind of fell within the qualification period.
“It is difficult, but with the right support and kind of networks around you, especially when your sports programs are receptive to the academic side of things, then it's quite easy to do both.”
It has been a similar situation for Lisa who was forced to miss competitions due to Covid and injuries, but she has persevered and made every match count to maintain her ranking as number one in Scotland.
Now into her third year of a Brewing and Distilling Course at Heriot-Watt, she said the University and the Sports Scholarship program ensured she had advice and assistance “on tap”, helping to relieve a lot of stress.
“It's made me assess what's important in the day,” she continues.
“So rather than doing a lot of training and a lot of studying because there's only so many hours in the day, it's prioritising what's really important with the training and what studying needs done and making sure it all gets done in the day.”
Wishing them well ahead of the Commonwealth Games is Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice-Chancellor at Heriot-Watt University, who said: “It is wonderful to have two of our very own students flying the flag for Scotland and for this University at this year's Commonwealth Games.
“Our sports scholarships are designed to embed a high-performance training environment into a sports scholar's weekly schedule and it is truly a special feeling to see two of our students compete at an international level whilst being fully supported in their academic studies. At this University, we want every student to reach their full potential and I firmly believe Lisa and Alex will be an inspiration for others to follow.
“I shall be watching with interest and wish both, the very best of luck.”