‘Supervisions excite and terrify me’: The Tab talks to athletics star and fresher Amy Hunt
Running 200m in 22.42 seconds? That’s nothing compared to reading Ulysses
Cambridge is about to add another face to its line up of high-achieving alumni. In a week or so’s time Amy Hunt, world record holder in the U18 Women’s 200m, and all-round sprint superstar, will be matriculating into Corpus Christi. The Tab caught up with her to discuss her excitement for the new academic year, how she’s coping in this post-corona world and how she plans to balance a BA in English with all that running.
Why is a rising track star starting an undergraduate degree at the toughest uni in the country, while still training for the Olympics, you ask? Well, it’s because she loves a challenge: “I’m quite a competitive person and like to push myself in everything that I do. I approach each thing trying to attain the highest level of success possible, so I want to see how far I can go.” However it’s not just about academic success, as she also feels her academics help her be better on track. “I think it is good to have a degree on the side, because I need that distraction from athletics to maintain my mental acuity. I couldn’t be completely focused on athletics, I’d lose my head and it would affect my training. I need that sense of being more than an athlete; I’m not just someone who just runs, I have more to me.”
Amy’s journey to Cambridge started with a trip to the city for a Subject Masterclass, without any real thoughts of actually applying. “I never thought I’d be able to balance it all, so I just went for the experience, and in the car on the way back I was saying ‘I think it would be really nice [to go to Cambridge] but I just don’t think it is possible’ but my parents pushed back on that. Talking through it with them, I realised it wouldn’t be the easiest route but it would be possible.” She received support from her school for the ELAT and interview, but even then she still didn’t have any expectations. “I just took each step as it came and I didn’t think too much about what would come next. I was so nervous for my interview. Even though I race all the time against really big names and on really big stages, my interview was one of the most nervous moments of my entire life. Afterwards, I just thought it was a great experience; not many people get the opportunity to talk to leading academics.”
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i’m going to cambridge uni!!!! so happy to have my offer to study english confirmed and can’t wait to start in october 👩🏻🎓📚 (2nd pic is post interviews last december) . . . . . . . . . . . . . #alevels #alevelresults #alevelresultsday #examresults #cambridge #cambridgeuniversity #oxbridge #university #studying #celebration #hardwork
Of course, January came and she found out she’d received an offer. Normally calm and composed on the track, in that moment she was just like any other Year 13 student. “I was crying and saying ‘Mum! I got in!’ Then everyone was suddenly aware I had to actually commit to whether I wanted to take up the offer or not and if so then we had to figure out the logistics.”
Balancing her sporting career with A-levels wasn’t easy, and given the step up from school to uni she definitely wants to get a handle on things early. “Until now I’ve managed it through stress and sleep deprivation. I need to get into a healthier routine of sleep and get organised. On the training side, I need to have really strong communication with my coach and be honest if I have to say I feel like rubbish and I don’t think I can do a session. It’s about being big enough to say when things aren’t going right, so problems can get sorted as soon as possible.” Asking for help when you need it is crucial at Cambridge; international athlete or not, many a fresher has fallen foul of having too much on their plate and not letting anyone know they are struggling.
Her day-to-day routine is yet to be set in stone, and she’s going to adapt it to the demands of her degree and student life, but she hopes to be able to travel back to her training base in Loughborough when possible. “Going home gives me access to physio, nutritionist, and a sports psychologist, as well as simple things like my mum cooking me a meal, so I’m not having to always be self-sufficient. It is also good to have face-to-face contact with my coach, because although we’ve had to train from a distance a lot this year, it is necessary for him to be there and to have him see me training. I won’t do it every single weekend but the aim is to be as flexible as possible.” Her training is ultimately set by her coach but “if that merges into what the athletics club are also doing then I will train with them, but that also depends on how things go with COVID. The athletics club have already reached out to me which is lovely.”
So far COVID-19 has actually had some positive effects on her training. “I managed to get more training in than I would have done because I didn’t have any school, I was pretty much living as a professional athlete, in the gym twice a week. My coach and I had lots of time to work on things we didn’t think we’d have time to, like my strength and block starts. They used to be the weakest part of my race but aren’t now (due to the extra training).”
Lockdown came at an ideal moment for her. “Just before then I’d had two big competitions in Glasgow, so lots of driving and a lot of stress. In the following two or three weeks I then had mocks so that was overall a really busy time. It was really good to be able to let go of that stress, and allow myself to have a break and it’s been nice to actually spend time with my family because I was so busy all the time before, it’s been good to slow down, pause and spend some time with friends and family.”
Photo credit: Amy Hunt
As we’ve recently heard from freps across the uni, the class of 2020 are going to have a very different freshers experience in comparison to previous years. In some senses I wonder if the reduction in normal student socialising (pres, Cindies, Van of Life at 2am, etc) will be a good thing for Amy, as her athletic commitments might have prevented her doing them anyway. “Although meeting people will be hard because of COVID restrictions, in another way it will be easier because it’s not going to be based so much on nights out. That said, it’s not that I wouldn’t have gone out clubbing. My coach and I have talked about needing to go out and meet people in Freshers’ Week because it only happens once. At the end of the day, I’m a student athlete and those two things should be as balanced as possible. I’m 18 years old and I’m not aiming to be in the absolute prime of my career at 18. Sometimes you have to reward yourself and just have a good time, live your life a bit and not waste it away being too boxed in on one thing.”
So how is she feeling about the actual academic bit? “Supervisions excite and terrify me, the first few might be really horrible. The most terrifying thing is that I know I need to start reading faster; it’s scary to think how much I need to read in one week.” She’s passionate about her course and its breadth of study. “We have the whole span of literature on the course; James Joyce and Bronte but then also last year’s Booker Prize Winner ‘Girl, Woman, Other’. It’s great to see that diversity and learn about a whole range of different people’s lives and times and experiences. Because it is so broad it is an amazing subject to do, I’ll be interested to see what I gravitate towards throughout my degree.”
Having a strong community around you is a massive help when surviving first term and she’s excited to being thrust into a new social group. “I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of new people because I think it will be good, even though it sounds cringey, to broaden my horizons with new people and new experiences.” Part of what attracted her to Corpus Christi as a college was the intimate feel, alongside the gorgeous buildings.
That said, given her prominence in the sporting world, I wonder how she feels about being so visible in the Cambridge community and whether she feels limited by being a public face. “It’s a weird one because we have fresher’s group chats, and on some of them people have been onto my account and said they’ve seen the blue tick and x amount of followers. On others, I’ve maintained some anonymity, so people don’t have that perception of me. I try not to think about it because Cambridge is a place that attracts so many people with so much else going on in their lives, I feel like I’m fairly average.” Even if she does stay under the radar, is there a fear that she’s going to ratted out to The Daily Mail every time she has a wild night out? “I’m not just representing myself; I’m representing all my different partnerships, my agents, my family. It’s just about making sensible decisions and so to a degree I have that consciousness of knowing I can’t do anything completely stupid, but without athletics I think I’d be like that anyway. There is a line and you just have to be a basic, good human being and citizen.”
Amy’s positivity about the future is somewhat infectious, and speaking to her got me excited about heading back to college. Although she’s an exceptional athlete in many ways she’s just like any other fresher; excited, nervous, passionate about her subject and just hoping to survive first term.
Whether you’re running sprints for GB, or just running to make your Zoom lectures, I wish every fresher the best of luck with this new academic year.
Feature Image photo credit: Amy Hunt