Adam Phelan knows all too well how difficult it can be to transition from sport to study.
A former professional cyclist, Adam spent the early part of his twenties competing on the international circuit.
He lived in Europe and devoted his life to the sport, racing in some of the most beautiful and storied parts of the continent.
But Adam also knew he needed to have another ace up his sleeve for when his time as a cyclist came to an end.
“I had been a cyclist for a number of years, from when I was really young,” Adam said. “I lived in Spain and Italy, I raced in two Under 23 World Championships. But it got to a point where I wanted to go back to Australia and get a degree. I wanted to build a life outside of sport.”
Adam’s girlfriend was the catalyst for his journey to Wollongong. She had been accepted to study at the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Graduate Medicine, and Adam, who grew up in Canberra, saw it as a chance to pursue his interest in business and media.
Adam celebrated his graduation from UOW in 2019 with a Bachelor of Commerce (Dean’s Scholar) with Distinction, majoring in Marketing. He also delivered the vote of thanks on behalf of the student body and was a Highly Commended Finalist for the Robert Hope Memorial Prize.
Graduation marked the start of a new chapter in Adam’s life.
“When I was an athlete, I did a lot of media and marketing on the side. I was always interested in that area so I wanted to link it to a broader business degree.
“Being an athlete at that level, it is really wedded to your identity and to who you are. To change all that quite suddenly was a big adjustment. I was a mature-aged student, and also doing a lot of freelance work. Balancing all that and leaving sport behind, it was hard to make that transition to a new life.”
Once he had made the decision to leave professional cycling, Adam devoted himself to his studies. It was a chance for him to help other Indigenous students and learn how to use his new marketing skills to affect social change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“I was an ITAP [Indigenous Tailored Academic Program] tutor and helped to guide fellow Indigenous students through their time at University. A lot of the students I was tutoring have come from areas outside of Wollongong, so they were off country and dealing with a whole new world at University. I also got the opportunity to be a research assistant with Jindaola [a program that embeds Aboriginal knowledge into the UOW curriculum]. I loved it. I learnt a lot.”
In 2019, Adam’s father passed away after being diagnosed with cancer. Adam found a lot of support throughout his degree, and in particular during this really tough time, from Woolyungah Indigenous Centre.
“Jaymee Beveridge, who is the Director of the Centre, has been a mentor to me, particularly after my dad passed away. I owe a lot to Woolyungah.”
Adam is thrilled to be graduating, although the moment feels bittersweet without his dad there.
“It has been a very busy three years, working and transitioning out of sport. I made a deal with my dad before I went overseas to race, that I would always come back to university. I’ve been able to fulfill that but it is sad that he can’t be here with me. I feel really proud, I’ve done it for him and for myself.”
After graduating Adam landed a job working for the University of New South Wales for the Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous. He describes it as his dream job, combining his passion for his heritage with his love of communication. He wants to continue to devote his skills to support and raise awareness of issues impacting Indigenous Australians.
Although the last few years have been tough, leaving behind everything he had worked for as a professional athlete, Adam said he is incredibly grateful for the opportunity to start over and build a new life outside of sport.
“Sport is an all-consuming world. With one injury, your whole career can stop without your control. There is a time limit to all sports, so it makes the transition a bit smoother if you have something else that you are actively interested in beyond sport.
“Writing, media and marketing have helped to ease my own journey. I miss aspects of being an athlete but I’ve grown into something else. I feel very lucky that I am able to experience two lives. It is exciting to spread my wings and do something else that I am passionate about.”