Sports professionals inspire college pupils at University’s ‘Breaking Barriers’ day


Over 100 college students from across Yorkshire were provided with an insight into careers in sport at a ‘Breaking Barriers’ event at Leeds Trinity University’s Main Campus in Horsforth.

Four women and two men sit in front of a board displaying the words Breaking Barriers.

Led by the University’s School of Sport and Wellbeing, the day saw industry leaders encourage and empower the students to pursue their goals through a range of motivational talks, panels and workshops. 

The keynote talk was delivered by former Great Britain swimmer Adam Whitehead, a European champion and gold medallist at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. He discussed his path to becoming a successful international swimmer, including dealing with disappointment, building resilience and celebrating marginal gains. 

A number of Leeds Trinity alumni, who are now working in a range of roles within sport, also returned to the University to form a Q&A panel and offer valuable advice on how to get started with a career in sport. Jodie Wilkinson of GB Boxing explained how she turned from aspiring rugby league player to international combat athlete and brought her national championship belts to inspire the students. The panel also included Karen Liu, who plays globally popular online battle arena video game Dota 2 for Esports England and won a silver medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Esports Championships; Ellie Olds, a Sports Nutritionist at Fulham Women FC; and Ellis Pascall, Women and Girls Sport Coordinator at Leeds Rhinos Foundation. 

The college students also had the opportunity to explore the courses offered by the School of Sport and Wellbeing at Leeds Trinity, as well as the on-campus sports facilities and accommodation during a career fayre and sports development taster session. 

Dr Kirstie Grace, Deputy Head of School of Sport and Wellbeing at Leeds Trinity University, said: “The Breaking Barriers event was a great opportunity to raise awareness of the different subjects that are available to study within sport, and our main goal was for the students to walk away feeling excited about the potential of a future working in the industry.” 

Adam Whitehead said: “Since retiring, the most rewarding thing I’ve done is being open and honest about my experiences. My sporting career wasn’t plain sailing, and my life hasn’t been either, so to share that was great and I hope some of the messages I’ve tried to share with the students, they can put into action. 

“The main point of my talk was to encourage the students to identify what they’re passionate about and pursue it. Too many times in life, people are told they can’t do things, but what I learnt from sport is that the people who try the hardest generally succeed. Talent gets you so far, but if you work hard, you can do anything.” 

The day was organised for students from St Mary’s College in Hull, St Bede’s and St Joseph’s in Bradford, New College Bradford, Barnsley College, New College Pontefract and Roundhay Sixth Form.

Anjali Kataria, Schools and Colleges Engagement Officer (Widening Participation) at Leeds Trinity University, said: “I’m really pleased with how the students engaged with the event and our guest speakers. They loved the practical activities and have been able to speak with academics and other staff at Leeds Trinity about personal statements and what their next steps are. 

“Many of them won’t have been to a university campus before and it may even have been their first experience of what university is. I hope it’s helped them realise it’s not much of a step from where they are now to studying at undergraduate level.” 

For more information on the School of Sport and Wellbeing at Leeds Trinity, visit the University website.

Image (from left to right): Dr Lisa Gannon, Ellie Olds, Jodie Wilkinson, Karen Liu, Ellis Pascall and Adam Whitehead.

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