Top sport alongside study

They study at UM, do their utmost to get their degree, but also have another big ambition: they want to reach the top in their sport. Young people who set everything aside to train hard alongside their studies and participate in high-level competitions. Real go-getters, in other words. What does it mean to play top-level sport alongside your university education? We ask some top UM athletes in this series of stories. International showjumper Babs Kerkhoffs is the first.

Babs (21) is in the second year of the bachelor's programme in Health Sciences, majoring in Biology and Health. She is 21 and lives in Weert, close to her horses. Her great love for horses started when she was five years old and since then, thanks to a lot of training and talent, she has achieved the NOC*NSF's IT status: international talents who belong to the world's top in their age category. That status proved to be very justified, as last summer Babs competed at the European Championships in Spain with her horse Evita.

Early start

When she was five, Babs went horse riding at a friend’s house, because you are only admitted to a riding school at the age of six. "For as long as I can remember, I wanted to ride horses," says Babs. "I have a huge bond with these beautiful animals and love spending all day with them. So it definitely doesn't feel heavy to train for four to six hours a day seven days a week. Last year, I worked in a stable where I rode six to ten horses every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After that, I still trained my own two horses at home. That was a lot, but I enjoyed doing it all."

European championship

In the summer of 2022, a big dream came true for Babs, she got to ride at the European Championship in Spain. "That was a fantastic experience and I'm still immensely proud that my horse Evita and I were able to compete. We finished fifth with our team in the age category up to 21. This year I will be 22 and I can compete as a senior, but it is difficult to get in. Especially training with your own horse in the run-up to such a competition is fantastic. You become one with your horse."

Babs Kerkhoffs

Studying alongside sport

Babs studies in the evenings, there's no other way. Is it difficult to combine top-class sport with a university education? "We top athletes are allowed by UM to be absent from half of the tutor groups, and we can choose between classes in the morning or the afternoon. But with exams, it is more difficult. Last year, I had to choose between my exams or the European Championship, because during the resits I was still competing in Spain. So, I wasn't able to pass my year and now I still have to do three more exams. It would be great if also with regard to exams something extra could be arranged."

Rescue swimming

Besides 'regular' swimming, Judith now trains for competitions with the rescue team. "I did additional training and got my licence for rescue swimming. I am now also allowed to join the Dutch team for rescue swimming and competitions are coming up soon. In the Netherlands it is not so well known, competitions in rescue swimming, but in other countries it is, like in Australia." Does Judith have a tip for other top sports students? "Planning is crucial, because you want to do well in both your study programme and your sport. But it is also important to stop and enjoy yourself every now and then."

By: Margot Krijnen
Photography: Joris Hilterman

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