When shooting star David McMath was going for gold at the Commonwealth Games he had the single-minded focus shared by many elite athletes.
The Strathclyde student made a stunning 2018 debut at Australia’s Gold Coast, winning Scotland’s first-ever individual gold medal in the Men’s Clay Target Double Trap, setting a new Games Record of 74 in the Final.
He was one of six Strathclyde Sport Scholars selected for the 2018 Games, including David Weir, who won a team bronze medalist in gymnastics, while fellow students including doubles badminton player Andrew Dunn, hockey player Rob Harwood and heptathlete Holly McArthur also qualified.
But David credits some of his success to the flexibility and support offered to sports scholars, including being able to devote himself to training after taking a year out from his Civil and Environmental Engineering degree course.
The 22-year-old from Castle Douglas in Dumfries & Galloway, said: “I had an inkling I might be selected for the Games, so I arranged to take a year off university as my dissertation was going to be due while I was in Australia.
“There were other options, like being able to take my exams in the resit period, but I didn’t want to have to worry about studying while I was training, so I thought I would take the year so I could focus on getting Games ready.
“The University were very accommodating and Strathclyde Sport, who look after sports scholars like me, have been brilliant. I can’t speak highly enough of them and the support I’ve had.”
David is one of the athletes literally at the top of their game who are combining academic and sporting excellence at Strathclyde, which offers a one-year renewable Performance Sport Scholarship Programme.
Scholars are awarded a comprehensive support package with a cash equivalent of up to £4,750 per year funded through donations from Strathclyde’s alumni community, to ease the pressure of combining studying with elite level sport.
Without that support, David says he wouldn’t have been able to compete so extensively, as the shooting season has many competitions in May and June, clashing with exam time.
He added: “That is a real challenge but Strathclyde Sport are great at helping you arrange time off with lecturers.
“The financial support from the alumni fund is also really important as shooting is not a cheap sport.”
After David’s Games triumph there was disappointment when his event was removed from the Olympics programme last year in a bid to help achieve gender equality in the sport and he has instead now focused on training for the skeet event category.
Shooting is an optional sport for host cities and has also been dropped from the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
David said: “It’s disappointing but I am aiming for the World Championships in 2021 right now and to be competitive beyond that into the Olympics in Paris 2024.
“I would expect that to be back at the level I was in Double Trap will take three or four years, as it is a very different event.“
Away from the sporting arena, he already has a job lined up with construction firm Balfour Beatty on graduation, and added: “I would say to anyone that if you can go to university at the same time as competing, then definitely do it.
“They complement each other well, although you have to work at it. After your sports career is finished, having a degree is brilliant to fall back on.”
Bethan Goodwin, 19, a member of the Scottish national netball team, the Scottish Thistles, who compete internationally, is another Strathclyde Sports Scholar.
She was also selected for the Netball World Cup in Liverpool this July, where 16 national teams battled for the title. Bethan was joined by Niamh McCall a first year Design Manufacture and Engineering Management student and fellow Sport Scholar. The team claimed 11th place after a strong finish in the tournament against Barbados.
Bethan said: “The Netball World Cup was a great experience. We didn’t finish in the position we aimed for, however we put out some performances to be proud of and showed netball is on the rise in Scotland.”
The accountacy student was also part of the national squad for last year’s Commonwealth Games where Scotland’s dreams were dashed after a heartbreakingly narrow 50-51 defeat to Malawi in the last seconds of the game.
Bethan said: “I had to do an online exam under exam conditions while I was competing in the Gold Coast, which the University helped organise with my manager.
“Even though we had to train I was studying throughout the day. With the time difference I had to stay up late, but it worked out and I passed.”
She says that combining sport and studying can mean sacrifices in her social life and added: “I have to look after myself and am different from my friends, because when they’re going off to study or socialise, I’m often going to training.
“Often I’ve got to be up early for training in the morning, so I can’t have late nights.
“I’m quite disciplined and I’ve been part of the national team since I was 16 and everybody understands netball is a big part of my life.”
Bethan says that she also has to prioritise what’s happening during each particular phase of term and added: “It can be challenging.
“This year I’m part of the Super League franchise the Strathclyde Sirens and it was really busy, but I was able to play and train almost every day.”
The Sirens and Thistles both train in Strathclyde’s state-of-the-art £31m Sports Facility and Bethan added: “The programme is an amazing thing to be part of and I’m really lucky to have the support from the University and also SportScotland.
“The new sports facility is great and provides high performance athletes with all the equipment and things we need.”
Bethan also receives financial support through the programme and added: “I don’t make any money playing for the national team and very little with the Sirens, so without that I don’t think I’d be able to do both.
“My goals were to get to the Commonwealth Games, play with the Sirens and be selected to the World Cup, so I’ve managed to meet them all.”
Chemical Engineering student Ryan McCormack started curling when he was aged just 10 at a 'come and try' session near his Lockerbie home.
The 19-year-old was part of the team to take bronze in the World University Winter Games in Krasnoyarsk, Russia in March.
Ryan said: “There’s lots of World and Olympic medallists from Lockerbie so I was probably inspired by them as well as my uncle, who is also a curler.
“The Strathclyde Sport Scholarship programme has been a great support and makes it much easier to study and compete.
“I’ve had some financial help with travel and competition entry costs and I get strength and conditioning sessions which are very helpful in minimising risk of injury and from my overall fitness”.
“I’ve also had tests and academic deadlines moved to fit around sporting commitments.
“It’s much easier to get things organised when you can say you are a Sports Scholar. When I came back from the World University Games I got a lot of support to catch up with what I’d missed."
Ryan's long term hopes include selection for the Olympics.
He said: “With curling it tends to be you are more in your mid to late twenties before you are at Olympic level.
“Right now I am two tiers below what is classed as Olympic selection, but I hope I’m moving towards it.”
The roll call of sports scholars at Strathclyde has also included James Malcolm, who played for Glasgow Warriors. The Mechanical Engineering graduate has since been snapped up by the prestigious rugby union club London Scottish.
In May, Naval Architecture student Andrew Brown was selected into the next stage of the Olympic trials, and is now one of three sailors who could represent GB in the RSX Mens’ Windsurfing Class at the Summer Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Anne-Marie Hughes, Deputy Head of Strathclyde Sport and Sports Scholar programme leader, said: “The strength and depth of the programme is increasing each year, and is tantamount to the support from the University across the academic departments, alumni donors and Strathclyde Sport.
“It allows students who are performing at a high level in sport to follow what can best be described as a dual career.
The students do make sacrifices to balance academic and sporting commitments but gain tremendous transferable skills which make them much more employable.
“In many ways, the Sport Scholars epitomise the University’s values of being ambitious, people orientated, collaborative graduates and are great role models for students who wish to be the best they can be, both academically and sporting. “
Picture credit for Bethan Goodwin: Daniel Odoom, Newcode UK