The new President of the Athletic Union is Jack Bristow, who has also made a name for himself in Triathlon here at Exeter. Upon meeting him, it is clear that he is both enthusiastic and easy-going just by his introduction in the Sabbs’ office; a firm handshake and carefree smile give a good impression of the new man in.
After we take a couple of seats nearby, I begin the discussion by asking how his sporting life has been shaped. “I used to be a swimmer until year 12 when I quit that and took up cycling instead, mainly because my Dad had also got into cycling.” he says. “It was only when I came to Exeter that I started doing triathlon as a way of trying something new while also getting back into swimming. I was a complete novice at first but absolutely loved the sport and put the hours in and grew more competitive.”
“I have represented the University at BUCS in all three years, with my best result being 30th in the BUCS Standard Distance triathlon this year. Over the summer, I managed to qualify for the 2016 European age group Championships in Lisbon, so alongside my work as AU President I will be training to do even better in BUCS before I then go on to represent my country in July.
“My story is proof that complete beginners can go on to achieve great things within Athletic Union clubs.” It makes for an astonishingly impressive resumé for Bristow, and the inspirational message is delivered with a conviction that is suitable for such a life of jumping hurdles.
“my story is proof that complete beginners can go on to achieve great things with athletic union clubs”
Next, I ask what circumstances fell into place to bring Jack all the way up into this role. “I’ve always had interests in sport here at Exeter, of course, going back from my Freshers’ Fair,” he responds with the same enthusiasm as the handshake, “and as a gay athlete, I am very keen to bolster gay representation based upon an LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) campaign. I am also motivated by just wanting to do my bit here at the University, and university level is a great place to make a grassroots change.”
He is clearly very passionate about the issue of sexuality in sport, and it is a point that he is eager to get across. “It was one of the main points on my manifesto,” he remarks. “We’ve got a Come Out and Play campaign planned, which is exciting news.”
I wonder what other goals he has for the AU going forward. “We’re not always showing what the AU has to shout about. We’re trying to get some publication projects started, like a monthly magazine or yearly review. We want to introduce women’s intramural six-a-side leagues as well, and we’re having a really big drive to get more female members involved. We’re currently trying to make sure all of our 7,000 members are as engaged as possible.”
Jack’s focus for the year is obviously going to be based on inclusion in sport. As Jack mentioned, his interest in sport at Exeter began at his own Freshers’ Fair. I enquire as to how he might get new students participating. “Oh, Freshers should definitely get involved!” he says. “All of our clubs cater for all abilities, so complete beginners can get in easily. We get year-on-year rises in our membership, sport is as cheap as it will be in any point in your life and it’s a great way to maintain an active lifestyle. It really caters well for students of all abilities.”
In some ways, it seems as if there’s no stone unturned in sport at this level. There’s a lot of people for the new President to please already, and somebody comes over looking for his assistance on something. However, I’m not to be denied over the topic of my next question: money. You have to pay plenty upfront to use the gym facilities here, so how does he respond to worries over excessive expenditure?
“We’re lucky to have the best gym anywhere in the country”, he states, with no need for exaggeration, “and although Gold membership might well be daunting, it works out the same as a regular membership would per month. With enough student interest, we might consider termly fees.” I can certainly attest to the quality of the gym, having used it myself; the extent of the array of machines, benches, treadmills and the like is mind-boggling and makes for an exciting prospect to any current and potential gym-goers.
In fact, the AU have recently opened another fitness area outdoors with even more apparatus available to all students. Members of top clubs like Rugby and Football are omnipresent here, but my next query concerns minority sports. What does the AU put into place to get people interested in sports like Archery or Climbing? “Personally, I’ll be very active on Twitter and social media, and obviously I’m going to be milling about on the day. It’s well advertised up at the Sports Park in the Hall. We’ll be advertising intramural sport on posters in Halls of Residence, and encouraging all societies to make a team as well. It’s great to have some friendly competition.”
Exeter finished sixth in the BUCS national league table last year, so the competitive side of things is in the University’s favour as well. This subject brings a wry smile to the President’s face. “We always want to do better,” he says, with an element of reservedness with regards to the thought of pushing up just a little further in the table. “Our goal is to finish fifth this year and improve going forward into the future. But we scored our highest-ever points total, and we really are punching above our weight.” There’s even space for a catchy soundbite: “Pound for pound, we are one of the best sporting universities.”
“Pound for pound, we are one of the best sporting universities”
It’s certainly great to celebrate what we have, but I press him on any space for improvement. “I would definitely say that if one thing needs to improve, it’s AU communication. Hopefully, we’ll get the magazine up and running this year.” he replies, visibly determined to get students noticing the Union’s success outside of reports in Exeposé itself. “We’d really love some help with volunteers doing that, it’s intended to be a student project,” he says pointedly. It will certainly require an extensive recruitment campaign to get his brainchild on the road.
The AU is clearly in good hands with Bristow, a man with dedication and passion for a wide variety of causes that go beyond the simple sport itself. With everything set into place for another record breaking year, let’s hope that sport here at Exeter will continue to thrive under his new leadership.