Olivia Sandery takes strides on and off the track

Olivia Sandery has taken significant steps in her race walking career in the past two years, particularly in 2022 where she has smashed her PBs on the track and road for distances from 5000m to 10km walk. After an impressive progression to the senior ranks, she’s now got her sights set on racing at the World Athletics Championships having met the qualifying standard for the 20km distance.

Olivia Sandery takes strides

For National Careers Week (15 – 21 May 2023), we spoke to Olivia about how she manages her sporting aspirations along with working and studying part-time. The 20-year-old is currently studying Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics at Flinders University, while also working casually as a hairdresser.

What are your career aspirations outside of sport?

Although I am not certain on where I would like to take my degree, I have an interest in both public health and sports nutrition. All that I’m confident of at the moment is that I would like a role where I can apply the knowledge and experiences that I have learnt as an athlete into my work.

How important is it for elite athletes to balance their careers and sport?

Being an athlete is extremely beneficial for building skills that are useful in everyday life. On the other hand, having a life outside of sport leads to better athletic performance as it is valuable for wellbeing. Having a healthy balance allows athletes to excel in both their career and sport. Having an outlet from sport can also provide a positive perspective on athlete life and gives athletes something to turn to when they need a break or if sport is not going their way.

How do you maintain work/study while competing or in your daily training environment?

Having good time management skills is key to balancing work, study and training. Having a casual role at work provides flexibility and studying part-time means I have extra hours in the day to train. I am lucky that I’m able to complete some of my degree online which is super helpful when travelling or on a training camp. The goals that I have both in sport and in life outside of sport also keep me motivated to keep moving forward in both these aspects of my life.

What are some of the skills you have developed through your sport that are transferrable to your career away from sport?

Athletics has taught me about the value of hard work, which has really benefitted me in student life and in working towards my academic goals. Being an athlete has also taught me a lot about overcoming challenges and being resilient which I have found is relevant not only to my studies but in every aspect of my life.

What are you enjoying about your current study or work?

Studying a degree has allowed me to pursue other interests, all while setting myself up for life post-athlete. I like that I am able to apply what I’m learning in my studies to my life as an athlete, as it feels like I’m getting real-world experience. Even though my degree is relevant to my sport, I find that both studying and working are still great distractions from training as I am able to connect with new people and learn other skills.

What’s a tip you could give other athletes thinking of studying, working, volunteering whilst still training and competing?

I would recommend athletes pursue something they are passionate about that provides them with enjoyment. As an athlete, I sometimes find that sport can become your whole identity. So it is important (especially in times of injury) to have something to lean on that can provide the same fulfilment as sport. Athletes are in a great position to pursue something that interests them and take advantage of opportunities that come their way.