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Funding Future Sporting Champions

Discover how alumni and supporter generosity is having a significant impact on the careers of our elite student athletes – two of whom share their success stories with us, thanks to the University’s Sporting Excellence Scholarship.

Student life can be financially challenging, especially when you have to balance the multiple demands of studying, training and competing.

Two of our Sporting Excellence Scholars know all about the demand of balancing studies and competitive sports: Isabella Wessels and Finnola Stratton. Isabella is a second-year Psychology student and ITF Taekwon-Do competitor, who represented Team GB in the ITF Taekwon-Do World Championship 2023; and Finnola is a second-year Philosophy, Politics and Economics student and rower, who represented the U23 Team GB team at the European Championships.

A growing success

The University’s Sporting Excellence Scholarship was created in recognition of the additional challenges faced by individuals competing at the highest levels while also studying. It provides a grant to help such students with sports-related costs, including competition fees, equipment, club memberships, and travel to and from training and events.

With thanks to our alumni and supporters, who are the primary donors, the Scholarship is now in its fourth year and has been a great success, attracting increasing numbers of applications each year. For the 2022-23 academic year, 26 scholarships were awarded across a broad number of sports ranging from canoe polo to athletics, rugby to weightlifting.

The University recognises the importance of extra-curricular activities – they build character, reduce stress and combat loneliness, providing those taking part with a ready-made community of likeminded people. Sporting and other extra-curricular achievements can also strengthen students’ CVs, demonstrating important characteristics such as good time management, motivation and commitment.

Isabella Wessels – ITF Taekwon-Do

Isabella has pursued Taekwon-Do since she was just four years old. It was a hobby she got into by chance. She said: “I actually started it just to copy my older sister.”

Isabella Wessels competing in Taekwondo tournamentUpon being selected for the England team when she was 14, Isabella decided to focus all her energies on the one sport, giving up swimming and running – both of which she was competing in at county level. Isabella said: “It was a difficult decision. But, eventually, it came down to the disciplined nature of Taekwon-Do, which I love, and the excellent relationship I have with my coach.”

With six international competitions under her belt, Isabella came to Reading fully committed to Taekwon-Do. Aware that universities often have financial support available for elite athletes, she applied for a Sporting Excellence Scholarship. Isabella explained: “There isn’t much, if any, funding in Taekwon-Do but regular training and competition are costly.”

For Isabella, on top of equipment costs and competition fees, those expenses included travel to and from a new Taekwon-Do club in Basingstoke once she had moved to Reading to start her degree.

University financial support for competition fees has been a particular help. Isabella said: “Even local competitions have entry fees but it’s really important to compete as much as possible.

“Competing more means better fitness, more experience, and those local events provide a great warm up and preparation for major competitions.”

The Scholarship even helped her with buying new England team kit for the 2023 European Championships.

Finnola Stratton – Rowing

Finnola rowing
Photo credit: @AllMarkone

Finnola started rowing at her local club when she was 13 and looking for a sport that would engage her. She loved it and progressed well – so when she came to choose a university, finding one with a good rowing team was a priority. It was the University’s team and squad that made Reading her natural choice.

Before university, Finnola had won a Sports Aid Scholarship, designed to support athletes at the top of their fields. She said: “I know how much a scholarship can impact what you can do.

“Even a small amount of extra money gives you more freedom to focus and excel. Applying for the Sporting Excellence Scholarship was a no-brainer.”

Balancing living costs and income is difficult for most students and even more so for elite sportspeople, making additional funding essential. Finnola has found the Scholarship particularly helpful in one area. She explained: “One of the most impactful things has been that it’s made sports psychology and physiotherapy financially accessible for me.

“Without the funding you wouldn’t think they were even an option, but as an elite athlete, you really need them. Training two or three times a day while working and studying puts your body and mind under stress, so these have been massive upgrades for me.”

Find out more about the Sporting Excellence Scholarship.

Did you compete in a sport while at the University of Reading and want to share your story? Contact us at