March 2019, Articles

Olivia McTaggart clears a new bar

Olivia McTaggart clears a new bar

Early in 2019, an email arrived in the inbox of pole vaulting star Olivia McTaggart. She knew straightaway that it contained a decision that could affect the rest of her life.

Had she been accepted into University? If the answer was yes, not only would she get to study towards her future dream career, she’d also be eligible for the World University Games – an event likely to be crucial to qualifying for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She paused before clicking on the email. There was a lot at stake.

Her journey to this point had begun 18 months earlier when she’d decided to finish Year 13 by correspondence to help fit study around her pole vault schedule. It was a decision that benefitted her pole vaulting career tremendously. She broke Eliza McCartney’s national under-17 record, attracted sponsors, and qualified for the Commonwealth Games. Her sporting career seemed, even to her, “like a fairy tale”. But not so her schoolwork.

“From the outset, I knew you had to be motivated to study by correspondence,” Olivia says. “I thought: no problem, I’m motivated.” But with limited teaching support around her, and an athletics domestic season underway, she found final NCEA exams tough. “It was a very stressful time – trying to do it all,” Olivia says.

In 2018, she took a ‘gap year’ to train full-time and figure out where to from here. “I had a lot questions going through my head,” she says. “What am I outside of sport? What else should I do?” She had some ideas but already knew the challenge of fitting things around the demands of her sport. So she called on her Athlete Life Advisor – Carolyn Donaldson. Together, they explored her strengths and identity and uncovered future career options.

“My athlete life advisor is a big part of my team,” she says. “Initially I didn’t really know who I was or what I could do for others. Carolyn helped me as a person, and helped me to figure out where I’m going.”

This led to Olivia identifying her ideal pathway: Massey University’s Bachelor of Sport and Exercise – studying part-time via distance learning. The next challenge was to get accepted into the degree programme. No stranger to clearing the bar in pole vault, this was a completely new type of bar to clear. Even though her (much better) Year 12 results and athletic career would be taken into account, she knew there was no guarantee she’d be accepted for University.

As she clicked on the email from Massey, her emotions were running high. Seeing the words ‘Offer of Place’: “I just felt massive relief,” she says. “All the stress of doing correspondence school without any teachers, plus the stress of trying to get into Uni, and knowing that World Uni Games may be where I qualify for the Olympics – it was big!”

Now Olivia has peace of mind, knowing she will one day have a degree qualification and a career beyond being an athlete. In the meantime, she is happy to know that Athlete Life and the Athlete Friendly Network are there to support her.

“I would definitely encourage athletes to work regularly with their Athlete Life Advisor,” she says. “Without mine, I might not have chosen the right course or gotten into Uni. It’s made a big difference to me.”

Early next year, Olivia will be hoping for more good news in her inbox: her first University papers passed and a spot on the NZ Olympic Team. We wish her every success.