From retirement to university

Roy Swales reflects on the challenges and opportunities of being a more mature student

Roy Swales
Roy Swales first year physio student he started on the pre-registration BSc in 2020 aged 64

The road from retirement to university has been less rocky than I thought; not the work, but the change of life purpose. Having spent 40 years in the British Army I know too well the ups and downs of future plans. The ability to switch paths and to make them succeed takes determination, momentum and personality. 

The University of Winchester saw something in me as a mature student and gave me a place to study physiotherapy and for that I am very grateful. It was something I always wanted to do but plans changed as life was lived. 

I started my military career at 16 as a junior combat medical technician with the Parachute Infantry, training in advanced trauma medicine and management. Working later as a bush doctor with Special Forces in isolated locations gave me insight into the human condition and our body’s vulnerability. As I grew in service and rank, I was always grateful for my place and position. All the skills I learned – leadership, command and control, organisation, self-confidence and discipline - are all attributes employers seek and it may surprise you to learn you probably have them all but you may not know it yet. 

Life is a journey, it’s a gift not to be squandered but to be lived. There were times when I wanted to give up, lay down and just accept my fate, but something in my head always told me to get up and get moving. Trapped in a building being shelled and harassed by snipers was one such moment, but here I am. 

My brother and I were brought up by my grandmother, a Yorkshire dinner lady with a heart as big as her hands. While parents were never something I knew, from her I knew kindness, love and a large Yorkshire pudding in my packed lunch were all I ever needed.

My life lesson, if I could give you one, would be to never pass up on an opportunity to better yourself, learn something really useful every day and treat others the way you would wish to be treated. Now at 65 years young, I will end my career back in healthcare, hoping that my life skills and knowledge will help me to help others on their road.

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