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She's got wings on her heels!

Mary Abichi is a 200/400m track and field athlete who represented Great Britain in the European Indoor Championships, European Team Championships and European Champions. She combines athletic success with her Neuroscience MSc at King’s, where she has just completed her laboratory project in the MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders with Professor Marin and Professor Rico.

Mary, firstly, congratulations on your athletic success - please share some highlights from your sporting achievements.

Thank you very much. In 2017, I made my first Senior GB team at the European Indoor Championship and achieved my first senior medal, a Silver in the 4x400m indoor relay. Last year, 2018, I achieved a bronze medal in the 4x400m relays at the European Championships. I have been English Champion at the England Championships three times. This year, I decided to coach myself and placed 4th at the British Championships, which also happened to be my fastest season opener of 52.66s.

How do you combine international athletics with studying neuroscience full-time at King’s?

I find that both aspects of my life tend to complement each other. Neuroscience takes my mind off the pressures of athletics, whilst athletics gives my mind a rest from all the studying, which is perfect. I feel has helped me perform better.  I try my best to manage and organise my time efficiently. Usually, my phone calendar will be filled with training session, lectures and daily/weekly goals. And the night before heading to bed I would write goals for the next day on my whiteboard, take a picture of it on my phone in the morning and have it as my screensaver as a reminder (I know very over the top but I am forgetful and can be easily distracted). Then tick them off once I am home anything leftover is transferred to the next day. But most importantly, l listen to my mind and body and makes sure that I am healthy and getting enough rest.

What is your training programme? How does it vary throughout the year?

My training session varies throughout the year. In general, I train 6/8 times a week, where some days consist of doubles sessions (morning and evening). The winter season, which is the hardest part of the programme consists of intense lactic sessions which include, 10x 300m evening session, 5 am start hill runs the next morning or 7 am gym session with King’s Sport Performance. This is part of the programme where you cannot feel your legs for hours, walking upstairs feels like walking up Mount Everest and you may occasionally get a cramp in my cheeks from breathing too hard. Basically, everything hurts. As the year goes on, the programme becomes speedier and less endurance based. This is my favourite part of the programme.

Do you have any other athletic goals?

Yes - I aim to run faster than my personal best. Hopefully, make it into the World Indoor Championship in Nanjing 2020 and the Olympic team Tokyo 2020.


What is it like to compete whilst studying full-time?

It has been okay competing whilst studying. There are sometimes where some competitions have clashed with deadlines, but King’s have always been accommodating.  I have had to be specific about my races for the season, to ensure I do not burn out.  As the research project became more intense, I made a lot of changes to my training programme to focus mainly on the British Championships, which was slightly risky, but I ended up with good results.

What is the best thing about studying at King’s?

The atmosphere at King’s is amazing and the course does challenge you to reach your full potential.  

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced whilst studying?

My research project has been one of the most challenging. It has made me step outside of my comfort zone and think outside the box. I had to push myself and not give up. It was almost like 400m race but for the brain: you start fast and enthusiastic and then the mental-lactic sets in and the last 100m’s of the project feels like an eternity. However, I enjoyed it, and like most 400ms, making it the finish line is always the greatest part.

How has King’s supported you during your studies?

The level of support at King’s is incredible, especially the student support service and the course organiser, Dr Eamonn Walsh. They have supported me at low and exhausting times of the year when everything got a bit too much. They gave me advice and tools to make my time at university easier.

Also, I am part of King’s Sport Performance. Support and coaching are impeccable. I had a good strength and conditioning coach who believed in me and push me to the point I was hitting 200kg pin-squat personal bests. The Sports Performance team encouraged me to be the best version of myself, helped me think about my career directions and the many possibilities out there for me as an athlete and academic.

What do you hope to do after completing your Neuroscience MSc?

Athletics wise, I hope to carry on with athletics and train for the world indoor championships and the Olympics. Career-wise, I’m planning on applying to medical school and becoming a doctor.

What would you advise to someone thinking of applying to King’s to study neuroscience?

The MSc Neuroscience course is good. I do recommend it. They support students to be the best they can be. They are understanding of other commitments that you may have. So… apply!


Finally, please tell us any long-term benefits of exercise you’ve learned about from your studies.

Well, studies show that exercise increases neurogenesis (developing new neurons) in adults and improves brain performance. A recent paper by Dr Sandrine Thuret and her group at King’s, “In the Long Run: Physical Activity in Early Life and Cognitive Aging”, shows that exercise also reduces cognitive decline… pretty interesting read… check it out!


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