How a World Champion athlete is broadening her horizons

From hitting the slopes as an Olympian to hitting the books through online education, Laura Peel’s journey is anything but ordinary.

Laura Peel

 

It takes courage to race down a snowy slope at 65 kilometres per hour towards a towering ramp. Even more to launch yourself 20 metres into the air from that ramp to perform flips, somersaults and twists, and then gracefully land back on your skis. 

That’s exactly what Australian three-time Olympian and two-time World Champion aerial skier Laura Peel has done for the past 15 years. 

But beyond her gravity defying achievements as an elite athlete, Laura’s been perfecting another manoeuvre—expanding her horizons with online learning by studying nutrition and accounting through Open Universities Australia. 

The starting line

Laura is an athlete at the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS)—an organisation that helps high performing athletes achieve their potential in sport and life. As part of the support VIS offers, Laura has been the recipient of Open Universities Australia’s Performance Lifestyle Award and scholarship.

“I heard about the scholarship through my Performance Lifestyle manager at the VIS,” says Laura. “I completed a Bachelor of Health Science (Food & Nutrition) with Charles Sturt University in 2019 and was able to study one of my elective subjects through Open Universities Australia thanks to the VIS-Open Universities Australia partnership.”

“It was a great opportunity, and I've been lucky enough to receive a few more study scholarships since my first application.”

“When I started looking into further study, I was really keen to study through  Open Universities Australia again,” says Laura. Just like she does on the ski field, Laura leapt at the opportunity and is now halfway through her postgraduate Master of Professional Accounting with the University of Tasmania.

 


Finding balance on and off the slopes

With a sporting career that’s spanned more than a decade, Laura’s quick to share that while aerial skiing has been her priority “education has always been important” to her. 

It could be easy to think that a sole, laser focus on sport is what’s helped Laura win World Championships. However, it’s the ability to excel in sport and life that’s given her a balanced career—one that’s only just beginning. “Through all the twists and turns and highs and lows of elite sport, studying has given me the balance I've needed,” Laura shares.

The flexibility of online learning and the breadth of study options available through Open Universities Australia are factors that have helped Laura find that balance while competing at an elite level as an aerial skier.


I spend at least 9 months of the year on the road and, in a sport that depends on Mother Nature, last minute changes of plan are routine. A traditional on-campus set up would make studying impossible.”



For Laura, the most challenging thing about juggling study and sport has been managing time zones around exams, especially when athletes don’t always know where in the world the sporting calendar will take them ahead of time.

“Thanks to a great team of people between the Olympic Winter Institute of Australia, VIS and Open Universities Australia, I've made it through all exam periods so far, without too much stress.”

It’s this support that has, in part, enabled Laura to finish her Bachelor of Health Science (Food & Nutrition)—an accomplishment she describes as her proudest moment as a student so far.

 
Laura Peel at the World Championships

Taking the leap: study tips from an Olympian

Laura knows firsthand that getting started with study can be the hardest part. That’s why she recommends taking the time to get clarity on what you want to learn before jumping in. 

One of the benefits of studying through Open Universities Australia is that we’re a not-for-profit. That means our student advisors can offer impartial guidance about what to study every day of the week and get you on a pathway to your goals.

“Once I found the right degree though, having a focus outside of sport has helped me so much on and off the slopes,” says Laura. 

The flexibility and choice available through Open Universities Australia means there’s a study option available to suit any lifestyle, no matter how much or how little time you have available. 

As Laura shares “you can fit a lot in in those little pockets of time between training sessions, so I would say go for it, even if you start with just one subject.”

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