FOUR years ago, Huddersfield cross-country skier Fiona Hughes was rolling up and down derelict Pennine railway lines in her unlikely quest to reach the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Those long training days avoiding errant dog walkers and pesky kids proved worthwhile, as Fiona realised her Olympic dream and finished a perfectly creditable 68th in the women’s 10k event.
But despite returning home to launch herself straight into a four-year engineering degree at Queen’s College in Cambridge, Fiona, of Lindley, discovered she loved her sport too much to ever seriously consider devoting herself solely to her studies.
Now with Sochi 2014 looming ever closer, Fiona is currently performing a hectic balancing act of working through her penultimate year of study and flying off to events which will help her qualify for her second successive Games.
“Fitting things in has proved a little bit tricky and I’ve really had to perfect my time-management skills, but giving up the sport after coming home from Vancouver was never an option,” said the former Greenhead College student.
“A lot of people say, ‘I’ve got there and that’s enough,’ but it just made me more determined to go back and improve on my finishing position and get closer to the winner.
“I enjoy skiing too much for that not to happen.”
Fiona found her vocation on a family ski holiday at the age of eight, becoming instantly hooked. She travelled to Scandinavia every year and took part in her first race at the age of 12.
The performance was picked up by the British Nordic Ski Development Squad and they took her on, but it’s been hard work ever since.
She trains many hours a week and relies on the support of her mum Madalyn, dad Geoffrey and sister Heather.
Fiona’s quest is not without its pitfalls. She frequently lugs bags of books away with her to training camps, and has no choice but to sit out the forthcoming World Cup test event in Sochi, Russia, because of college commitments.
Unsurprisingly, her days roller-skiing back home have also taken a hit.
“I don’t do it so much as we tend to have a few training camps abroad when I get the time,” Hughes added. “It is good to have a bit more challenging terrain.”
Britain’s cross-country squad would currently qualify a quota of at least three athletes for Sochi, headed by Fiona’s team-mate and fellow 22-year-old Andrew Musgrave, for whom hopes are high of a top-30 finish.
Musgrave, who lives in Norway, is already being steered towards the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where there is cautious optimism that he could challenge for Great Britain’s first Olympic medal in the sport.
Cross-country head coach Roy Young said: “Andrew Musgrave is based full-time in Norway and we believe that if we manage to keep him involved and he maintains his development, he will have a real chance in 2018.”
Fiona has more pressing concerns. She is considering deferring the final year of her degree in order to give her more time to concentrate on the build-up to Sochi, which continues with the World Under-23 Championships in Liberec, in the Czech Republic later this month.
“It has definitely been tough and I haven’t had a lot of time for a social life,” Hughes added.
“But when you’re away you usually tend to ski for three or four hours a day, so there can be a lot of down time.
“I actually find it quite relaxing in those situations to get my books out and do some work. I’m not one of those people who ever likes to sit around for hours doing nothing. And I’ve got quite enough at the moment to keep me occupied.”