Cloudius Sagandira says combining an academic vocation with a sporting career is the best thing that could have happened to him while at Nelson Mandela University.
The Madibaz football star, a former captain of the club, has recently graduated with a doctorate in chemistry, but will look back on his varsity days with extreme gratitude for the opportunities he received.
He is one of 70 Madibaz Sport graduates who obtained their qualifications at the university’s graduation ceremonies in December and April after excelling on and off the field.
Among other high-profile student-athletes who graduated were ace swimming twins Alard and Alaric Basson and athletics star Ischke Senekal, all of whom have represented South Africa.
Sagandira said he embraced the challenges he faced in the lecture halls and on the sports fields, adding in a message to aspiring students that it was all about hard work.
“In terms of first-years it is about setting your goals and getting your priorities right,” he said.
“With the right sort of determination, hard work, passion, commitment, self-discipline and, above all, God’s grace, anything is achievable.
“And you should never settle for less.”
He said the latter comment was the best piece of advice he received at varsity, while he also tried to keep things in perspective.
“Whenever I achieve something really good, I always remember that I am not the first or the last to do it, and someone, somewhere has done it even better.
“I always want to find ways to improve, always be hungry and let humility lead the way as I follow.”
The demanding work he put in during his extensive laboratory research was balanced by the release he received on the training ground.
“After a heavy day indoors I used to refresh at soccer training in the evening,” said Sagandira.
“That was a very important routine for me to keep myself fresh and energised.
“Besides that, football really helped build my character, determination, competitiveness and discipline, as well as a sense of responsibility. It brought out the best in me.”
Sagandira said it was impossible to pay tribute to all the individuals who guided him through his varsity life.
“All I can say is that I got all the necessary support I needed where possible to be where am I am today and I am so grateful to NMU.
“This might sound like everything was given to me on a silver platter but, trust me, it was all through sweat and tears and I am glad it paid off.
“Most importantly, getting the opportunity to study and play soccer at Mandela University was the best thing to have happened to me. The academic and sporting environments were conducive to the pursuit of excellence in both fields.”
Shot put and discus exponent Senekal has qualified with an honours degree in education and said her varsity career combined her love for children and her passion for sport.
“Neither was more important than the other so I decided I would do both to the best of my abilities even if it meant less sleep for me,” said the Uitenhage-based athlete.
She added that her mantra was to “believe you can achieve”.
“My message to aspiring sports stars is to always test your limits and strive to make your weaknesses your strengths.
“Keep on believing that you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”
Senekal said the support she received from the university structures had been crucial during her time there.
“The education department allowed me time off to pursue my sporting career in the knowledge that it would be my responsibility to catch up with any work missed.
“Similarly, Madibaz Sport was understanding in allowing me off some evening events to catch up on my academic commitments, so that was very important in helping me achieve my objectives.”
The Basson swimming twins, who are doing postgraduate degrees in construction management, said finding a balance between work and play was essential to succeeding at university.
“My advice to first-years is to take time ‘not just to plant the mind but to also water the mind’,” said Alard.
“As a student it’s so easy to get yourself caught up in study stress and pressures that you forget to take a breath or a mental break.
“Taking time out to relax, and feeding your mind positive thoughts before taking on the next task, is crucial.
“As a sportsman you cannot do what the rest are doing, so associate yourself with students with a similar drive.
“The best advice I got was to enjoy the journey as far as possible instead of just focusing on the destination.”
Alaric said a focus on doing well in both fields helped him to manage the challenges he faced.
“It was never possible for me to really enjoy the ‘varsity life’ to the fullest, but my desire to achieve in both kept me motivated,” he said.
“Having achieved both in my sport and academically over the past few years has been rewarding and all the sacrifices have paid off and still are.”
They both paid tribute to the roles played by their parents and the varsity structures.
“Besides our family support, our aquatics manager Melinda Goosen and coach Mark Edge were major role players,” they said.
“In addition, the Eastern Cape Academy of Sport played a big part in helping us achieve what we have so far, so we are grateful to all those who have supported us.”
Madibaz deputy director of sport Riaan Osman said they prided themselves on the holistic development of their student-athletes.
“We are thankful to the various departments at the university with whom we collaborate to ensure our elite student-athletes achieve success in their academics,” he said.
“Sport scholarships are available to top achievers who register for courses of their choice, subject to them meeting the desired criteria.
“We then provide the necessary support to assist them in managing their studies, especially when they out of class competing in their various disciplines.”
He said they gave the student-athletes access to online digital platforms via the University Blended Learning initiatives, plus daily monitoring of their academic progress.
“If any red flags are identified, we intervene by providing tutors for the students to ensure they will ultimately graduate in their studies,” added Osman.
“Previously if student-athletes missed a test, they needed to write a make-up test, based on more work than the rest of the class were tested on.
“In essence, this disadvantaged the student, but thanks to the online access to study material, including lectures, they are now able to pursue their studies in conjunction with achieving success in their specific sporting disciplines.”