BCom (Hons), BSc (Otago)
I am: Olympic, Commonwealth and World Champion Cyclist; Board Member; Freelance Marketer
Being a full-time professional athlete is similar to running a business - which is where Olympic cyclist Ali Shanks found her marketing degree from the University of Otago coming to the fore.
“The study at Otago gave me a grounding and ability to learn and soak up knowledge, and then apply it in a setting that wasn’t a marketing office job, but where it had hugely valuable benefits.
“I found I had a number of skills that I wasn’t even aware of myself until I had to make a living out of being a cyclist.”
Ali, who grew up in Dunedin, never considered another university for her study, and juggled a role as a member of the Otago Rebels netball team with a double degree in Commerce (Marketing with honours) and Science (Human Nutrition).
“It was just such a cool time of my life, because I was doing everything that I loved, with a whole group of people that I loved.”
After graduating, Ali switched sports and took up cycling, retiring nine years later as a Commonwealth Games and World Championship gold medallist.
Today she sits on the boards of Cycling New Zealand and High Performance Sport New Zealand, and freelances as a marketer.
Some of her work today builds on relationships she had with sponsors during her time cycling, something she credits to the skills she learned at Otago.
“When you’ve been on the other side of the fence in terms of marketing theory, you understand what the sponsors are actually looking for in an athlete and why they’re engaging with you.”
Applying the skills she learned, particularly during her honours year, to the real world, was key, she says.
“It gives you the confidence to make a difference, to think ‘how can I change things?’.”
Busy as her years at Otago were, with netball and study, Ali recalls them fondly, particularly her time flatting with friends.
“My netball friends were mostly students too, so I made really close connections with them - they are lifelong friends for sure.”
She also appreciated the flexibility the University provided them while they were travelling and competing with the Rebels, saying staff acknowledged there was more to a student’s life than just papers and made accommodations to allow continued study despite disruptions.
For Ali, Otago, the province, and Dunedin, the city, will always be home, despite living in the North Island with her husband and son now.
“Only Otago - for me I’ll always be proud to call myself a Dunedinite, an Otago girl. And I’m proud to say I went to Otago and that the University is part of my home town.”