Category Archives: Student Stories

Student Story: James Collins

CAS000485_highres_0James Collins intended to go to university to study Leisure and Tourism, however, when he the opportunity to be a model he thought he’s take a year out and give that a go. That year turned into many years and eventually James decided that he needed to plan for when his modelling career would come to an end. He had originally wanted to study something in Sports the first time around, so, after completing a personal training certificate, decided to enrol with the OU to study Sport, Fitness and Coaching. James studied full time around his modelling work, which meant he had to be able to complete his OU studies whilst travelling around the world! Three years later and James completed his degree achieving a First Class. He is now studying for his Masters with Middlesex University with a focus on strength and conditioning. In the future, James is aiming to work in an academy or with athletes training them on strength and conditioning. He’s also considering a PhD!

“I completed my GCSE’s and GNVQ back in the day and finished that in 2001. The intention was that I was going to go to Birmingham University to study Leisure and Tourism. Back when I was applying to university there weren’t that many degrees in sport related subjects apart from Physical Education. I wasn’t the best student in my teenage years, so I didn’t get the grades to be able to do that at the time, which was why I was going to do Leisure and Tourism – I’m not really sure what I would have done with that though.

But before I started with Birmingham University I got an opportunity somehow to be a model. So I thought I’d give that a go and take a year out. That year, however, turned into many, many years and I did that all through my 20’s. I was very lucky to be able to travel the world doing it – New York, Paris and Milan, but I got to the point where I was tired of not using my brain, and I knew that eventually it would come to an end and I needed to start thinking of the future. I took a personal training certification to see if I could learn again as it had been so long and I passed that so then decided to give the OU a go. I needed to be able to study alongside modelling and travelling as I couldn’t just be based in London or anything like that.

JamesCollins1When I started my OU studies it was a nice shock to the system! I decided to complete my studies full time, so I did it in 3 years. I was able to still travel around for work and just take my books and my laptop with me. I did my tutorials here, there and everywhere and it actually went very well. Somehow I managed to get a first class grade!

I think everybody knows the OU. You grow up seeing the videos on BBC 1 and 2 at night and I just one day decided to have a look to see if there was anything sport related available and was quite surprised to see that there was. As part of the sports degree with the OU there was personal training experience so that seemed to fit perfectly and that’s why I chose that degree with the OU.

There were a couple of challenging elements for me. I was doing it full time and there was a lot of reading that you had to do, especially around Christmas. In the curriculum you have the Christmas period off, but I found that’s where I caught up so that was really busy for me. Also, at a regular university you have your teacher with you every week and you can ask them questions face to face, whereas with the OU you sometimes have just one tutorial and you have you ask your questions by email which can mean you have to wait a while to get a reply. Doing exams in handwriting was brutal. I was used to doing it all on a laptop and my hand was in agony. Whilst studying I was always travelling for work, so I was having to deal with everything that comes with that, including working out of different times zones and jet lag. I was always having these big events to deal with too. However, because of the type of study I was able to take my books and materials with me to be able to study whilst travelling.

JamesCollins2I found having the online tutorials really helpful because you could go back and listen as many times as you liked. Whereas now in my lectures for my masters I record them on my phone and hope that will work every time so that I can go back and listen to them like I did at the OU. Being able to do that is super, super helpful!

Because I was doing it full time, every month I’d have 2 assignments due in so I’d give myself two weeks to get the assignment done. The first week, I would make sure I got all of the reading done and in the second week I would write my assignment even if it didn’t have to be in for a couple of weeks and I would just stick to that routine. If I had a ton of reading to do then I would just do it on the weekends.

When I first started my OU studies, the original plan was that I was going to be a PE teacher. I was intended to follow up my OU studies with teacher training. But the first year went really well and I just started to have a look around at what other jobs there was in sports that I could do. I decided to go down the strength and conditioning route and then I found a Masters course at Middlesex University that I thought would be good and so I started to just aim for that instead. My current plan is to complete my masters in Strength and Conditioning and then start applying for roles working at an academy or with athletes coaching on strength and conditioning. I’m also just debating whether to do a PhD alongside that too!

My advice to anyone considering an OU course would be to just stay on top of the reading and try to have a strict timetable that you stick to, because it’s very easy to get behind, especially with holidays or big events in your life. Also I would say to ask your tutors anything you’re not sure about – I was really bad with emailing them, but they are there to help you and they may even give you the answer without realising it!

I would definitely recommend the OU because you don’t need to have a certain level of grade to enter, so if you did poor at school when you were younger and want to get back into it, you can give it a try. You’re able to earn money and get a degree at the same time. Also, if you can’t get to a regular university, or are restricted by your location, then it’s perfect. I think it’s brilliant!

I graduated in 2016 and the whole day was great – it was everything I thought it would be. It was good to be able to see other students graduating too. The whole experience is obviously quite different to a regular university because you don’t know anyone else, so it’s just you and your little family. But I loved it.”

If you want to follow in James’ footsteps and study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.

Student Story: John Curd

When I began studying with the Open University, I was at a low ebb. I had recently retired due to ill health and had suffered several devastating bereavements in a short space of time.  Previously I had enjoyed a long and varied career, which included decades of psychiatric nursing in the NHS and a stint in the Royal Army Medical Corp (RAMC). However, I was in a bit of a rut and felt as though I needed to undertake a new challenge.

TDR_VIS_270915CURD_01Having run 115 full marathons and 103 half marathons for charity over a period of several decades, I have something of a passion for sport and athletics. Therefore, I decided to pursue an OU course that involved these two fields. In 2008, I commenced the module E112, titled ‘Introduction to sport, fitness and management’. Since then, I have successfully completed a total of five modules with a view to attaining a BSc (Hons) degree in Sport, Fitness and Coaching. I have just begun my sixth and final module. Studying with the OU has given me a greater sense of purpose, as well as having broadened my mind.

From the day I started studying with the OU until now, I have always enjoyed the very best of support from the OU. During my studies, I have suffered more bereavements and more bouts of ill health and there have been times when this adversity has caused me to consider effecting a cessation of my studies. However, thanks to the help and advice that I have received from Student Support, the North-West branch of the OU, my various course tutors and the Milton Keynes faculty staff I have always been able to overcome such adversity and progress with my studies. The university staff have been incredibly supportive to me.

John Curd 1Thanks to my studies with the OU, I am now a qualified kettlebell instructor, a Level 2 Registered Exercise Practitioner and the proud holder of a Foundation Degree. My OU journey has not always been easy, but it has been worthwhile in every regard. I look forward to the rest of the academic year and the challenges and accomplishments that it will bring.

Student Story: Helen Richardson-Walsh, Olympic Champion

CAS000368_highres_0Helen Richardson-Walsh is a professional sportswoman and has played hockey for the Great Britain women’s team since the late 1990s. She won a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics. Her involvement with the team led to an interest in psychology and this prompted Helen to study towards an OU degree in the subject. Helen admits that degree study has taken her out of her comfort zone at times, but she has no doubt that having a degree has made her more employable. Helen has found her studies so inspiring that she is considering further research at some point in the future.


“Before embarking on my OU degree I was a full-time athlete, training for the London Olympics. Due to the level of funding we received from UK Sport via the National Lottery, I also did some part-time work – mainly coaching and going into schools to give presentations – but my focus was always on hockey.

I’d started a degree in human biology at Aston University back in 2000, but I lasted just a term. This was partly because it wasn’t the right course for me and partly because it was straight after the Sydney Olympics, so my attention was elsewhere.

Helen RW 1When the time was right, I opted to study with the OU mainly for the flexibility. I knew it would allow me to study whilst carrying on playing hockey and I wouldn’t have the pressure of attending lectures in person. I’d also be able to start modules when I wanted, so would only sign up when I knew I could get the studying done; for example, I chose not to start a module in the summer of 2012 so that I didn’t have any assignments to complete during the Olympics.

Helen RW 2I became interested in psychology when, from personal experience within the GB hockey team, I could see what an effect the mind can have on so many different areas of life – for us it was success – and I wanted to learn more about it, hence my choice of degree subject. When I started, I said I’d do one module at a time and see where that took me. I’m now less than a year away from getting my degree – something I was never sure I would do – and excited at the possibilities it has opened up.

Inevitably, there have been challenges in balancing my athletics career with a degree and a personal life. The biggest challenge is doing all the reading that’s involved, because very often at the end of the day I’m so exhausted from training that it’s very hard to concentrate. The period leading up to my assignments being due is always challenging and I’ve found relief from having been granted a number of extensions. I’ve had to say no to so many invitations in the past due to playing hockey, and when I’ve got an assignment to complete it makes going out doubly impossible!

My biggest achievement so far in my degree study was finishing my first assignment! Up to that point I’d never had to write an essay like that, given that my A levels were science-based (and a long time ago!) and I can still remember how hard I found it to construct the essay; it was a relief to send it off and then to find I’d passed it. I’ve really enjoyed doing more of the practical-based project work; that has been very satisfying.

There are a few modules I’ve found particularly inspiring. I’ve definitely enjoyed my current module, DD307 Social psychology: critical perspectives on self and others the most. I guess it fits with the reasons why I started in the first place, so that’s no surprise really, but I also found the project we had to do really interesting. I chose to focus on retirement from international hockey, so looked at what that experience is like and how players have navigated their way through it. It certainly inspired me to consider further research as a possibility in the future. I would never have said that about myself ten years ago!

My tutors – I’ve had four so far – have all been very helpful and supportive. The main thing for me has been the need for extensions, which have been no trouble in the main.

Helen RW 3I have no doubt that my degree has made me more employable. My hockey career has taught me many skills, which I hope to transfer to a different career one day; however, this degree will show a different side of me and of my abilities and may also need to be a stepping stone to further studies if I do indeed choose to go down that route.

When I retire from athletics I’d love to work within the field of psychology in one way or another. Sports psychology would be an option I’d consider, but maybe further down the line. I’m also particularly interested in mental health and the well-being of people in general, but mainly that of young girls having to deal with the enormous pressures placed on them today and also that of sportspeople as they make their way through difficult transitions such as retirement – so research or work in those areas might be a possibility.”

If you have been inspired by Helen’s story and want to study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website


Student Story: Kevin McEwan

Kevin left school with few qualifications and joined the army. He had his eye on what he wanted to do when he left and part of his preparation for ‘civvy-street’ was gaining an OU degree, part-funded by the army. The OU’s flexibility meant he could work and study and he is now matching further qualifications with his career goals.

Kevin McEwan 1“I wasn’t very good at school and to be honest I didn’t really enjoy it. I just wasn’t really interested. I got some GCSEs, though at D and below and I felt I had the ability but I just didn’t work hard. The Open University gave me another chance – to do what I really wanted to do, study sport and fitness and have a career after the army.

I joined the army in 2003 aged 19, first as a truck driver in the Royal Logistic Corps, then as an instructor and later in teaching roles. I left in 2012 as a Corporal after nine years but had begun to plan my career when I got out, while I was still in the army. People leave the army without any qualifications, without planning ahead and expecting to just walk into a job, but a lot of what you do in the army is not transferable into civilian life.

I had a diploma in diet and nutrition, a personal training diploma and had done an army fitness instructor course and in 2009 I started an OU course the majority of which was paid for by the army. You can get funding for up to 10 years after you leave which is something I would encourage other service people to take advantage of.

I began studying when I was based in Cyprus and a Lance Corporal. My aim was to pursue a career as a personal trainer and I continued to study wherever I was stationed. I didn’t get any special treatment and finding time to study around your work and life, in and outside the army is a challenge. You have to find the motivation to carry on. It takes some discipline to do it and some of that might have come from my army background.

Kevin McEwan 2The flexibility of the OU suited the way I wanted to learn, away from a classroom and in my own time. The course also gave me a grounding in all the relevant subjects and the quality of the learning materials was good and well produced. The tutors were all contactable and highly knowledgeable in their subject and did their best to answer any questions.

I did not use social media or attend day or summer school and would rather study than do placements or go on forums. I used a mixture of technology to study where I could, laptop, tablet or phone.

Since gaining my degree in 2013 I have begun an OU BSc in sports fitness and coaching and hope to go on to an MSc and become a physiotherapist.

Studying while you work means you can apply what you learn straight away. Linking study to your everyday business helps you learn more effectively. Study has also helped my confidence. When I began I wouldn’t have had the confidence to start my own business or learn about sport fitness and management.

The Open University is perfect for people like me, someone who didn’t get good GCSEs let alone A levels. It shows that it is never too late to learn.”

If you want to follow in Kevin’s footsteps and study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.


Student Story: Michael Trott

Michael Trott joined the Army in his late teens and spent two years with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) before being medically discharged. He decided to embark on the OU’s Foundation Degree in Sport and Fitness as he felt education was the only way forward. Michael says he is now a different person. He recently won ‘The One’, a competition for fitness instructors from all over the world and will be travelling to New Zealand early in 2016 to take part in the masterclass filming. Michael hasn’t ruled out the possibility of further OU study and is considering the MBA, which he hopes will gain him entry to the world of sports management.

“I left school with no A levels and joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) when I was 19. After two years I was medically discharged from the Army and a few years later decided education was the only way forward. I’d heard about the OU, so I had a look at the website. I’d always enjoyed sport and because of my injuries was attracted to physiology, Michael Trott 2so the Foundation Degree in Sport and Fitness appealed to me. I discovered that I was eligible for financial aid because of my injuries, so I signed up. An additional benefit of the OU was its flexibility – I’d be able to carry on working while I was studying.

The registration process was very easy; I enrolled for all my modules online. The only paperwork I had to complete was the application for financial aid.

My tutors were great and I was completely blown away by the TMA feedback they gave; it was so detailed. They were also very prompt to respond whenever I emailed them to ask questions. The module materials were easy to follow and the quality very high. One of the best things about the OU is that everything is given to you on a plate – you always know what you have to do and when. For me, the online discussion forums and tutor group forums were also helpful.

Michael Trott 1I can honestly say that without my OU qualification, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I was what you might describe as a ‘typical’ soldier, but studying with the OU has changed me as a person. There’s a lot of respect out there for an OU degree, which helps career wise. I now work at the University of Cambridge as a fundraiser and I teach fitness classes around the city. Recently, I represented the UK at ‘ONE LIVE’ in Stockholm in the final of ‘The One’, a competition for fitness instructors from around the world and I was delighted to be declared the winner!

Getting my degree wasn’t without its challenges. The biggest one for me was learning to write academically. What kept me going, though, was the fact that I was enjoying my studies and was able to apply what I was learning to my everyday life; quitting would have been counterproductive. Learning to write well has obviously paid off: I’m now a guest blogger for WatchFit and a contributing writer for Myprotein.

I’ll always remember my graduation ceremony at the Barbican Centre. It was a great day and being there made everything ‘official’. Another major highlight of my OU experience was getting good grades for my assignments.

Who knows what’s next for me? Winning ‘The One’ means a trip to Auckland, New Zealand in January 2016 to take part in the masterclass filming. As regards further study, I’d definitely do an MSc with the OU if one in sport and fitness were available. At the moment I’m looking at the possibility of doing an MBA with the OU as it’s such a highly regarded qualification and would help me enter the world of sports management.”

If you have been inspired by Michael’s story and want to study sport and fitness at The Open University please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.

Student Story: Alan Campbell, Olympic Medallist

Alan Campbell is an Olympic rower competing for Great Britain and is also studying for an OU degree. Alan’s coach encouraged him to think about his future after rowing and so Alan enrolled onto a degree in Leadership and Management. Having a competing career as an athlete whilst also trying to complete his studies has not been without its challenges, but Alan is due to complete his studies in 2016 and compete at his 4th Olympics games in Rio.

Alan Campbell 2

My rowing coach, Bill Barry, was the person who encouraged me the most to study. He’s a businessman himself and had a business background outside of rowing. He’s an Olympic silver medallist from 1964 but realised that rowing will come to an end one day. As an athlete there will come a time when you get too tired and can no longer compete, so there has to be something beyond sport, or beyond rowing for me. Effectively one career will be coming to an end and I need a way into another career, the OU presented that opportunity for me.

Alan Campbell 3The OU was convenient, well known and could fit around my life. The fact is that I wouldn’t have been able to go to a normal university and attend lectures whilst being an athlete. My life involves attending training camps around the world and I’ve got a family at home, so I need to be able to study whenever I can and not when someone else tells me to study. I don’t know of any other university that can offer that opportunity in the same way and at the same level.

My OU experience so far has been a very positive one. It’s a degree and it’s not easy – it’s a hard thing to fit around an already busy life, but you’ve got to make time for it. There are times when I’ve had to cram work in at the last minute, times when I’ve been up very late and I shouldn’t have been because I had rowing the next day. There have been times where I’ve found it very frustrating but I’ve always felt like I’ve been well supported. I seem to be getting good marks and doing well at the same time.

CAS000301_highres_0I’ve had to contact the tutors previously for extensions, which I’ve fully utilised, and sometimes for a re-mark. What I like about the OU tutors is that they haven’t all come from a purely academic background, they are from business backgrounds and a lot of them still work full time in their field and the OU is part time for them. I’ve found whenever I’ve asked them questions related to my course they are talking from personal experience too – this is something I’ve always found much more helpful.

Alan Campbell 4If I had to sum up my overall OU experience I would say that it’s been tough but rewarding. It’s given me an opportunity for the future.

My advice would be to have a look at degrees you like the look of and to start with level 1 courses and certificates – they really give you an insight into what studying is like. I feel like my degree will open up a lot of opportunities for me and that people will notice the OU degree. Unlike a lot of other athletes, I didn’t finish my degree first time around – I started an Engineering degree before I left to go rowing. But my OU degree will be relevant because it’ll be more recent. I’ll come out of rowing in 2016 after Rio, which will be my 4th Olympics, and will finish my degree in 2016 too.”

If you are interested in studying sport and fitness at The Open University please visit our ‘Study with us‘ page.

Student Story: Simon Hemsworth

In this video BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching graduate Simon Hemsworth describes how studying with The Open University helped him to change his life and achieve his dream of becoming a PE teacher.  If you are interested in studying with us please visit the ‘Study with us’ section of this website.