Driven by a dual passion and boosted by a massive support system, Nelson Mandela University graduate Ashleigh Vaughan has reaped the rewards of a diligent work ethic in academics and sport.
This month, the 24-year-old Madibaz Sport water polo star and Tokyo Olympian graduated with a degree in pharmacy to complement her sporting achievements.
A burning desire to succeed helped her navigate a four-year journey riddled with challenges and obstacles.
“I am very passionate about both areas and also very competitive, so I wanted to do my best in all aspects,” Vaughan explained.
“My dad was a doctor and my elder sister is a qualified pharmacist, so I always knew I wanted to do something in the medical field.”
She followed in her big sister’s footsteps to start a juggling act that would imminently lead to success – cum laude on both counts. Fortunately, she could count on a “massive support system”.
Vaughan, who is currently interning at Berea Pharmacy in East London, confessed that there were hectic times as she tried to balance the demands of her degree with sports trips.
“I will never forget when I returned from the Czech Republic after participating in the European Union Nations tournament and I had a test to complete at the same time I had to go through passport control.”
She ended up doing the test on her laptop while queuing and trying to get through security.
“The airport was so busy and we were checking into our flight so it was very stressful, to say the least. I passed the test and was stoked that I managed to do so in such a difficult situation.”
Vaughan acknowledged the roles of both the university’s pharmacy department and Madibaz Sport in her success.
“The department was very understanding of my situation and accommodated me as much as they could.”
Her water polo manager, Melinda Goosen, helped set meetings with her lecturers and head of department to discuss ways to complete assignments, tests and exams without having to sacrifice tournaments.
“For example, last year I had an exam scheduled on the day that I was flying to Hungary for the world championships. My lecturers were made aware of this and allowed me to do the exam the day before so that I could complete that module in time.”
That was just one of the many things Nelson Mandela University did to help her excel at both disciplines.
“I appreciate that support and how understanding they were,” Vaughan said.
Despite the difficulties, she will do it all over again.
“I had many challenges; the obvious one being not having enough time in the day to do everything I needed to do.
“Trying to keep up with such a hectic degree and a demanding sport was exhausting, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”