Caroline Boyle has competed in cycling events in two Olympic Games but now the Open University graduate – who’s currently studying Latin – faces a new challenge, to find a career which combines her sporty experience and classical qualifications.
But the difficulty she now faces, is carving a career out of her unique combination of skills. “My life experience is diametrically opposed to my academic qualifications. It will be a real challenge to find a profession which will accommodate what I have to offer particularly as my personnel circumstances restrict me to distance learning. But I am equally passionate about both sport and the arts and I want if I can to help diffuse the tension between the two which the forthcoming Olympics has undoubtedly spotlighted. There seems to be a myth that art and sport cannot coexist in harmony but for me they are inextricably linked.”
When Caroline left school she went to work at the local shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness. Along with many of her peers she studied towards a foundation degree in Engineering. “I found school pretty uninspiring which is perhaps why I opted for an apprenticeship underpinned by the subjects I had found more challenging.
"Likewise, it was this nascent desire to be pushed beyond my comfort zone that led me enter a triathlon when I was 20 on a borrowed bike … and I won it. I’d been a county level swimmer and middle distance runner in my teens, but surprisingly I posted the fastest time in the cycling element of the event. Instead of being average at three sports I decided to try to excel at one and chose to focus on cycling. So after finishing my apprenticeship I gave up my job to train full time.”
And the training paid off. Caroline had a fantastic cycling career under her maiden name of Alexander, competing in the Olympic Games in 1996 and 2000 and in the first ever mountain bike race in the Commonwealth Games in 2002. She also excelled in the World Cup finishing second overall on two occasions and won the European Championships. But the Olympic medal she coveted so much eluded her as she encountered mechanical problems in both Atlanta and Sydney, as well as crashing heavily in the 1996 Olympic road race.
Representing Scotland in the Commonwealth Games, she finished fifth in the road race and was cruelly denied victory in the mountain bike event when a slashed tyre forced her to withdraw despite having built up a commanding lead. “It was one of the few times in my sporting career that I’d managed to peak on the right day – an art form in its self!
'The OU was a great option for many of us here on the Furness peninsula when the shipyard downsized so I feel a certain degree of loyalty. In fact I can’t praise the OU enough'
"I had started to think about life after cycling and because I’d always been interested in antiquity, I had begun studying with the OU, initially to convert my foundation degree from Engineering to Humanities. I soon discovered that training and study really complemented each other, as the latter gave me something else to focus on, and helped me to keep my mind agile while my body was recovering.
“Scotland allowed me complete autonomy over my Commonwealth Games preparation, the bulk of which was spent at high altitude, and I had won a number of international races both on and off road in the build up, therefore I knew I was close to my best physically as well as mentally. A few days before my event Paula Radcliffe, who had so often been the bridesmaid, won the Commonwealth title, an achievement which I considered significant – I truly believed it would be my turn too!”
For the first year after she retired Caroline continued to train while studying 120 points with the OU. “Although I didn’t race I wanted to keep my options open and be fit enough to compete if I decided to make a comeback. The following year earning a living intervened and I only managed 60 points at Level 3 instead of the 120 I’d intended. Kids were the next obstacle to academia, Felicity in the summer of 2006 and Penelope at the close of 2009, before I finally took up the reins again in 2010 and graduated with a BA (Hons) in Humanities with Classical Studies and Literature in 2011. “
“Next on the agenda is postgraduate study," she added. "However, sadly the OU’s MA in Classical Studies is problematic for me as the most heavily weighted assignment is due in at the end of the school holidays - two young children and 60 points at postgraduate level is an excluded combination for me! The powers that be threw me a lifeline when they decided to postpone the final presentation of A860 until 2013 by which time Penelope will be old enough to go to Kindergarten, but whether further study in this field will enhance my employment prospects is open to debate.
“The OU is a fantastic institution and I’ll be loathed to go elsewhere. It’s reliable, superbly organised and you know exactly what you’re getting, plus I’ve had some fantastic support from my tutors. It was a great option for many of us here on the Furness peninsula when the shipyard downsized so I feel a certain degree of loyalty. In fact I can’t praise the OU enough, I’ve had such a positive experience. So much so that I decided to sign up for A397 Continuing classical Latin in 2012. Although a mere 30 pointer it has been quite an undertaking given that I had no previous Latin until last summer when I embarked on a correspondence course! But then I do like a challenge!”
Caroline will be attending London 2012’s mountain biking events, to enjoy the sport and meet up with friends who still race.