Transforming Lives: Learners at AU is a testimonial series written by Athabasca University (AU) learners and alumni who want to share how AU has helped shape their lives.
AU learner Makena Hodgson is one of six Canadian lugers competing at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
My academic journey is far from what I expected, but one that I am perhaps the most grateful for. As a member of the Canadian national luge team, school never seemed like an option for me.
In fact, once I started competing internationally, I was told that all my focus had to be on sport, and that school would have to take a backseat until I was done. Because our World Cup schedule has us travelling around Europe from October to March, and training in the gym twice a day, every day from April to September, there was never any time for me to go to school. Traditional university was immediately out of the question.
“As a member of the Canadian national luge team, school never seemed like an option for me.”– AU learner and Team Canada Olympian Makena Hodgson
This was a big struggle for me because I really wanted to learn. I did not want high school to be the end of my academics. I aspired to have a career in the medical field, but this type of academic goal was unheard of in the realm of luge and none of my teammates seemed to have desire to even start post-secondary education.
Seeing my teammates creeping up on their mid-thirties and still having no idea where they were going to go when they retired scared me; I didn’t want to be put in that position. I am someone that actually enjoys lessons, enjoys learning, and so I wanted to start focusing on advancing my education as soon as I possibly could.
Eventually, I applied for university, got in, set up my course schedule, and even received confirmation from my professors that my demanding schedule could be accommodated. But then the school told me that, no, I wouldn’t be able to attend because there was no way that someone with such low attendance could succeed at a post-secondary institution. I was devastated. What was I supposed to do?
Flexibility with online learning
When I discovered Athabasca University (AU), I was in disbelief because it seemed like such a perfect fit. With the flexibility of the courses, I could still train and compete, all while getting classes done at the same time.
I could complete course material whenever I had time, not working around a specific schedule. Completing a course at my own pace, without worrying about deadlines or missing lectures, was something I didn’t even know was possible. I was so excited to start that quite literally four days after I graduated high school, I started by first university course!
“When I discovered Athabasca University, I was in disbelief because it seemed like such a perfect fit. With the flexibility of the courses, I could still train and compete, all while getting classes done at the same time.”– Makena Hodgson, Olympic luger
Now coming into my third year, I have completed almost a full traditional year of classes. Although it doesn’t seem like much, I am slowly but surely making my way to a health sciences degree.
At the same time, my training hasn’t faltered in the slightest. I am still able to train and compete internationally, while completing my schoolwork from anywhere. And believe me, when I’m in Germany and jet lag is hitting me hard, you can catch me sitting in bed at two in the morning, reading a biology lecture or putting the finishing touches on a psychology assignment.
Balancing studies and athletics
Being able to balance sport and academics has allowed me to discover a side of myself I didn’t even know I had. I learned how to perfect my time management skills and have found a way to motivate myself when nobody else can do it for me. What I have learned from my sliding career in luge has been applicable to my schoolwork. But I have also found that my academic growth can have just as big of an impact on my athletics.
I am grateful to have this opportunity to advance my studies while also being able to do what I love: competing at the highest level I possibly can. And when I do choose to retire and am able to pursue full-time studies, the resilience and diligence I have learned through AU will help me.
It was a risk choosing to balance academics and athletics, but looking back on it now, it was absolutely the right decision.