ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 8, Autumn 2013

You and me

Serious commitment to her sport helped Australian swimming champion Rachel Goh take home 12 gold medals at the 2012 FINA World Cup. Professor John Saunders helps Rachel and other elite athletes keep their studies on track through ACU’s Elite Athletes’ Program 

Rachel Goh, elite athlete and ACU psychology student 

“I am 26-years-old and I have been swimming for more than 22 years now. I started when I was four, and have been racing competitively since I was seven.

The 2012 FINA World Cup Series recently took me to eight cities in six weeks – including Dubai, Doha, Stockholm, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo and Singapore. I took home 12 gold medals for Australia, but not at the expense of my honours degree in psychology at ACU.

My swimming requires a serious commitment, but I also like to put 100 per cent into my studies, and ACU’s Elite Athletes’ Program gives me the flexibility to make this happen.

I first heard about ACU’s Elite Athletes’ Program from fellow Australian swimmer and friend Sarah Katsoulis in 2010. Sarah had just won a Commonwealth Games Bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke, while studying exercise science at ACU. She spoke highly of the program, and said it had been extremely helpful in terms of balancing her study and professional sport.

I was tossing around the idea of completing my honours year at ACU at the time. Sarah inspired me to go along and have a chat to ACU’s Elite Athletes’ Program Coordinator, Professor John Saunders.

I literally walked into his office one day, introduced myself, and it all kicked on from there. I felt instantly supported by Professor Saunders. He immediately understood the demands of professional sport, and its all consuming nature.

It’s so refreshing to get this validation and recognition from a university. Professional sport is not just an extra-curricular activity for me. It’s a way of life.

Representing Australia in international competitions, and managing a demanding 30- hour training schedule each week, can often impact my studies. At times, my entire mindset needs to be about sport.

It’s more than just training and competing in the pool. There are regular visits to health professionals such as nutritionists, physiotherapists and sports psychologists. It all takes time, energy and dedication.

When I am away competing, it can be difficult to switch my mind into the study groove. I’ve tried taking my books along to competitions, and it’s a miracle if they even get opened.

ACU’s Elite Athletes’ Program gives me the extra time, breathing space and flexibility I need to succeed academically, which makes all the difference.

Professor Saunders works with my lecturers at ACU to make sure I get all the appropriate extensions to meet my study requirements.
The program gives me the freedom to leave my books at home during the competitive season. It means I can knuckle down and focus on my studies when it’s over.

Beyond the pool, my goals are to complete a master of psychology at ACU and embark on a career in either sports or organisational psychology.

I will always be passionate about swimming, but I’m ready for a new chapter in my life. I am discovering a new passion at ACU in the field of psychology.”

Professor John Saunders, Associate Professor in Exercise Science, Faculty of Health Science and Coordinator of ACU’s Elite Athletes’ Program

“When Rachel Goh walked into my office three years ago, I knew she would be a great candidate for ACU’s Elite Athletes’ Program. She was a top level swimmer in her twenties, and that is a pretty amazing feat in itself.

Rachel told me she wanted to study her honours in psychology at ACU, so I employed her as research assistant that day.

I love my job. It’s about helping talented athletes excel in their professional sport, and come out on top in their studies as well.

I have been coordinating ACU’s Elite Athletes’ Program since it was first established in 2005, in association with the Australian Sports Commission. The idea was to help elite athletes make academic progress, amidst the rigors and demands of managing a high profile sporting career.

In 2013, the program will support more than 60 elite athletes from across ACU’s six campuses to achieve their study goals.
Basically, an elite athlete is someone who has been identified as such by the Australian Institute of Sport, a State Institute or Academy of Sport, or a relevant national association, such as the AFL or Rugby Union Players’ Association or Australian Cricketer’s Association.

I’ve watched some really big-name athletes come through the program over the pastdecade – including Australian athlete Jana Pitman-Rawlinson, Olympic gymnast Ashleigh Brennan, World Champion and Olympic sailor Krystal Weir, Australian and NBA Basketballer David Stiff, and Australian cricketer Meg Lamming.

We also get a lot of AFL footy players coming through, like Western Bulldogs player Dan Cross, and 18-year-old Jack Frost who has just been snapped up by Collingwood – and it’s wonderful to have Rachel Goh on board.

There are times when Rachel literally needs to drop everything and focus on her swimming – and the program provides a framework of support so her studies aren’t jeopardised.

As ACU’s Elite Athletes’ Program coordinator, I liaise when necessary with Rachel’s lecturers to negotiate extra study time, extensions for assignment, and to reschedule her exams if they happen to clash with her international competitions.

The lecturers at ACU are all very supportive, and it’s characteristic of Rachel’s dedication and commitment that she’s consistent in meeting all her study obligations.

Rachel has been able to transfer her integrity and prowess in the pool to her academic pursuits. She knows where she is heading, and has the strength and determination get there. She’s extremely conscientious.”

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