June 24, 2020

Class of 2020: Longest race finally finished for engineering Olympian

Alex Gough balanced engineering undergrad with stellar career on the luge track

Retiring at the top of your career, and then working toward graduating from university.

A different path for sure, but then Alex Gough has always taken a unique track through life, and an engineering degree from the University of Calgary will soon be sharing a place of honour beside an Olympic silver and bronze, plus a half-dozen world championship medals.

It was 2018 when Gough retired as Canada’s most-decorated luger in history, to turn her attention to the civil engineering degree she’d started while still training as an Olympic athlete.

“To be perfectly honest, things got easier from an academic standpoint after I retired,” recalls Gough.

“I was taking more classes, but I was able to attend all my lectures and wasn’t having to distance-learn while I was travelling. The biggest challenge for me was finding the right balance in making time for physical activity, which I found so important to keep both my body and mind happy.”

A long journey to convocation

Gough had already spent 15 years on the luge track when she first started studying at Schulich School of Engineering, but balancing post-secondary with athletics meant taking the former slowly, in order to train for a sport where sleds can reach 140 km/h.

With a chance to study full time and take part in activities around the faculty — including a role as guest lecturer with Schulich’s Bioengineering Summer Institute — Gough could finally focus on a finish line that had seemed forever on the horizon.

“The highlight of all for me was submitting my last final exam. Not because I don’t like being at university, but the sense of accomplishment of having finished my degree,” says Gough.

“I took my first university course in 2007, so it’s been a long time coming.”

Engineering a family affair

A career in civil engineering also places Gough on a brand new, but very familiar team: her parents and younger brother also wear the iron ring as civil engineering graduates.

Looking back, Gough says she only wishes there’d been more time to spend at the university on areas other than class work.

“I would have loved to have gotten more involved in some of the opportunities outside of the classroom, but wasn’t able to during my first couple of years because I was away so much,” she says.

“Once I was around full time, I was just focused on getting through all my classes.”

Celebrate the engineering Class of 2020 with the Schulich School of Engineering