Exams may be taking up an increasing amount of Stephen Hearst’s time but the Newtownards squash player insists he still has his eyes on success on the court this year.
Last month Hearst competed at the European Junior Under-19 Championships, losing in the first round to Tobias Weggen – although it was still a positive experience having spent a large chunk of the winter struggling with a hamstring tear.
With his GCSEs at Regent House Grammar School fast approaching, Hearst will be forced to take further time away from the court in the next few weeks.
Hearst knows the importance of his education – he is considering studying architecture at university – but the 15-year-old is also eying up a long career in his sport.
The next step towards that will be a possible appearance at this year’s Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa in September and he believes believes steady progress is being made.
“The past season has been mixed, from October to January I was injured with a minor tear in my hamstring,” he said.
“Other than that I’ve been putting in good performances and getting good results and it’s been a steady season.
“Sitting out with an injury is tough because I love my sport and it’s hard having to sit out and not get involved.
“It was almost a blessing in disguise though because I got to focus on my flexibility training and that’s been really beneficial.
“It’s starting to get tough balancing my exams and my sport because we’re getting closer to the exam period.
“I’ll have a lot less court time and exams will be the focus, any spare time I have will be in the gym so I don’t lose fitness.
“The Commonwealth Youth Games are in Samoa in September though and if the governing body find the funding hopefully I’ll make that trip.
“Most squash players peak at around 28 and that’s really good for me because it gives me the chance to go and study at university which is something I really want to do.”
Hearst is one of 100 athletes selected for the 2015 SSE Next Generation programme, a scheme that identifies potential Commonwealth Games and Olympic medallists of the future, providing them with financial help and mentoring from elite athletes like Olympic medal-winning diver Leon Taylor.
And the young squash star believes being an SSE Next Generation athlete will help spur him on to bigger and better things.
“One of the most helpful things I’ve taken from the scheme is all the advice about nutrition because that’s something I’ve struggled with in the past,” he added.
“I’ve never been taught about nutrition in terms of what to eat and the mind tricks have been really useful as well.
“Another thing about the scheme is to get recognition and be picked as one of the prospects for my sport.
“It’s great for networking as well because you get to talk to other people and a number of top athletes and you can learn from them.”
SSE’s Next Generation programme partners with SportsAid to provide financial support and training to the sports stars of the future. Keep up to date with the latest @SSENextGen.