Each year, during the Scholarship celebration evening, we award one of our incredible Scholars the title of ‘Scholar of the Year’. This award is in recognition of their commitment to the scheme, their sport, and the University on the whole. For the 2021/22 academic year Kent Sport chose Gymnastics Scholar Lara Stembridge, following her successful defence of the BUCS gymnastics title while juggling her studies. You can read more about the celebration evening in our blog article.
We caught up with Lara about her sport, university life, and more. Read the interview below.
Q) What do you study at Kent and what are your plans after you graduate next year?
A) I study Clinical Psychology with a Placement year and I hope to go into the field of Mental Health. At present, I suspect I will primarily work with Older Adults as this has been the main focus of my placement and I really loved it.
Q) Is your academic school aware of your sporting achievements at Kent and have they been supportive of your training and competition schedule?
A) I have no evidence of my academic school being aware of my achievements however they have been very supportive in every other facet of my university life so am certain they would have supported me if they had been made aware.
Q) What are your favourite places on campus, and could you describe the University of Kent in three words, please?
A) My favourite places on campus would be the Sports Centre, the petting zoo at Woody’s when they have it and Wok bar at Rutherford! If I could describe the University of Kent in three words it would have to be challenging, welcoming and authentic!
Q) Are there any other places on campus you would recommend and what do you think is the best thing about the community and student life at Kent?
A) As mentioned above there are a few places I love to go on campus, however, I do also enjoy being in the library as there are multiple sections to relax and study in. There is also the library cafe where you can grab a quick pick me up and just outside the library is a lovely green area which is a perfect piece of natural calm when things are getting on top of you.
The best thing about student life at Kent is feeling a sense of community, whether this is within your academic school, sporting groups or just friendship groups. I think there are so many opportunities for these different groups of people to mix and get to know each other that it feels really like a community.
Q) As a maid of Kent (born east of the river Medway) and already living local to Canterbury could you provide us with three places worth a visit in the area for new students and their families to visit?
A) Canterbury is full of beautiful places to visit so it is difficult to name only 3, however, I would definitely recommend Cafe des Amis for some incredible Mexican food and cocktails, Westgate gardens and The Beaney House of Art and Knowledge for a quiet place to relax.
Q) As a sports scholar representing gymnastics how have you been involved with Kent Gymnastics society and to what end are you expected to help other members?
A) The Kent Gymnastics Society was formed this year and I am really excited about what we can achieve in the future. This year I will be taking on the role of Competitive Captain, where I will be leading the club into competitions, and ensuring all members have sufficient support as I know firsthand how stressful these situations can be. I am looking forward to bringing my experience with competitions such as BUCS to the club and am excited to be a part of the first Kent team to compete at BUCS for gymnastics.
Q) Are you a member of any other clubs or societies on campus, and is there ample opportunity for students to become involved in various groups on campus should they wish?
A) I am a member of the trampolining society (and I was Vice President for them in my second year) and have competed for them in multiple competitions including Varsity which is where the University of Kent and Christ Church compete against each other in all sporting disciplines. This is a really exciting time at university and there’s so much opportunity to get involved and cheer on fellow students. I am also a member of the Psychology society and BSL (British sign language) society and look forward to trying new clubs when I go back to university in September. There is definitely a wide array of clubs and opportunities for students at Kent and if there is something students feel are missing, there is the chance to create new clubs and societies to fill these gaps. I find this exciting as every Freshers Fair there seems to be more clubs and I’m glad Kent has such a welcoming environment to cater to all students.
Q) How important is physical activity and sport in complimenting your studies at university and what advice would you give to new students arriving next year and looking to engage in a new activity?
A) As I have been doing gymnastics from a very young age, I have always had to ensure that my sporting activities fit into my academic studies. I find this really beneficial to my mental health as it allows me time away from academia to relax and concentrate on something other that work when I am going through a stressful period at university. I would definitely encourage all new students to give something a go in freshers as the friendships you can build from these can be long lasting. Everyone is supportive and I can definitely say that the clubs would all benefit from having new students on board so push yourself to try something new!
Q) One of the reasons you were selected as Scholar of the Year was for your commitment to representing the University at BUCS and winning back-to-back championships pre and post the COVID pandemic. How did you maintain focus during this time and find the motivation to win?
A) The pandemic was a challenging time for me as gymnastics is such a specialised sport, meaning I was unable to practice any of the pieces I compete (floor, vault, bars and beam) throughout the entirety of the pandemic due to my club being closed. However, I found that this gave me motivation to return to my gymnastics fitter and better than I was before. My gymnastics club (Greenhill Gymnastics Club) was very supportive and offered online sessions to members and I partook in all these sessions and more, doing extra conditioning any chance I could get to ensure I was at the best level when gymnastics could return after the pandemic. Pairing my hard work in conditioning and mental preparation, I think these two aspects gave me the drive to relearn all my gymnastics skills and get focused for my win at BUCS. My previous win at BUCS also added to this drive to defend my title after such a difficult time during the pandemic.
Q) The coaching team has always championed your attitude to training in the strength and conditioning sessions. How do you feel about being an ambassador for the scheme this year?
A) I am honoured to be an ambassador for this scheme. The team has shown me ways I can improve in the gym and given me techniques and drills that I couldn’t have thought of myself. They provide support for both physical and mental health and I always look forward to these sessions. I have worked with Chris for 3 years now on the scheme and he is so helpful, welcoming, and friendly and I am extremely grateful for all the help I have received from him. The strength and conditioning sessions really compliment my gymnastics training schedule, and the coaches push me to achieve my best at each session.
Q) What were your sporting ambitions growing up and do you plan to remain involved in Gymnastics post University?
A) Growing up I think everyone’s dream is to go to the Olympics, however other ambitions I had were competing on a national/ international level and possibly winning! I have previously competed in both national and international competitions such as the Rosebowl international invitational and have competed against some famous names in gymnastics such as Alice Kinsella, Claudia Fragepane, Georgia Mae-Fenton and Kelly Simm, along with other well respected and renowned gymnasts of which I am very proud. I have also competed in 5 consecutive national finals and was the first and only girl from Kent to have ever done this. Competing for the University of Kent has allowed me to achieve my ambition of winning a national competition and showing me what I am capable of at this level.
Gymnastics has been part of my life for so long, it is difficult to imagine ever living my life without it and I know that I will continue to be involved with Gymnastics post university.
Q) Can you comment on how training and competing in Gymnastics has helped you develop skills and attributes that prepare you for future employment?
A) Gymnastics has definitely helped me in terms of time keeping, as I have always had to balance my work and academic lives with my sporting life. This can prove to be quite difficult if not prepared, therefore I always ensure I have planned ahead so I can better myself in all aspects of my life. I think gymnastics has helped with my confidence and trust in myself as I believe in myself a lot more and believe I can achieve anything I put my mind to.
Q) With the success of British Gymnasts at the most recent Olympics, notably the twins Jessica and Jennifer Gadirova, I imagine this has raised the profile of Gymnastics in this country. What advice would you give younger children becoming involved in the sport, and how can they find out where their nearest club is?
A) Yes, I definitely think the Gadirova twins have played a part in raising the profile of gymnastics as they were part of the Bronze medal winning team at the Olympics alongside Alice Kinsella and Amelie Morgan. They are an inspiration to all and are an incredible example to everyone as their dedication and commitment is unmatched. I am glad they have been showcased as it does show how much effort goes into gymnastics as a sport as it is often portrayed as a beautiful sport which it is, although it can also be quite difficult at times. I would encourage all younger children to get involved in gymnastics as there are multiple levels that you can be involved in and it can really help to develop both mental and physical stability. In terms of finding your nearest club, British Gymnastics has a tool on their website to find the nearest club to you and more specifically in terms of clubs in Kent, Kent gymnastics has a Facebook page and I am sure they would be happy to answer any queries or questions you may have.
Q) Finally, as we approach your final year at the University do you have the same commitment to winning a third BUCS crown and could you describe your fondest memories of your time at the University of Kent?
A) A 3rd BUCS crown is definitely something I will be setting my sights on and I am looking forward to pushing myself so that I am completely prepared to continue my reign as BUCS champion. I look forward to working with the Kent Sport team to hopefully achieve this win alongside my final year of studies.
My fondest memories of the University of Kent all involve the people there. I will take away a lot of memories from Kent, I have gained an amazing group of friends who I know I will stay in touch with throughout my life so this is something I am especially grateful for. The pandemic did taint certain parts of my university experience, however, I did manage to connect with so many other people and I will remember them all fondly. I work part-time at Woody’s and the Library Cafe and having people there who are acquaintances just makes being at university more enjoyable so put yourself out there and try every opportunity you are offered- you won’t regret it!
The University of Kent aims to deliver sporting excellence and is proud to offer scholarships to students with outstanding sporting ability at both Canterbury and Medway campuses.