Dr Hannah MacDougall on training the body and mind

La Trobe alumna Dr Hannah MacDougall is blurring the lines between sport and academia.

Few people would be in a better position to research the wellbeing of elite athletes than Dr Hannah Macdougall. As a dual Paralympian herself, Hannah added another accolade to her portfolio when she completed her PhD at La Trobe University.

Hannah first competed as a champion swimmer before making the switch to road and track cycling. She will represent Australia at the upcoming 2018 UCI Para Road World Championships in Italy, and has her eye on the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

While some athletes might see completing a PhD while training as an impossible feat, Hannah said her academic pursuits complemented her sporting career. Her research focused on improving para athlete health using mindfulness, acceptance, and strengths-based intervention programs.

“For a really long time in psychology and in sport, we’ve had what’s known as a red-cape deficit-based approach where we focus on fixing weaknesses or helping people after they have already hit a rough patch,” Hannah said. “Whereas with a wellbeing ‘green-cape’ approach, we can be proactive and build up people’s resources so they can be more resilient when harder times come,” she said.

“We know how to train the body pretty well, but we have a long way to go in terms of training our minds,” she said.

Alongside her training, Hannah applies her knowledge as a motivational speaker and community engagement and resiliency adviser at the Victoria State Emergency Service.

“I was keen to explore the evidence-based interventions that wellbeing has to offer. It’s a really exciting space because there’s so much potential for it to help athletes not only in their performance but in their lives in general,” she said.

While studying at La Trobe, Hannah was a member of the La Trobe Elite Athlete Program (LEAP). The program offers additional support to elite athlete students so they can successfully combine their academic and sporting pursuits.

“The support that La Trobe provided through LEAP was invaluable, not only was there some financial assistance for my sport which was fantastic, but there was also personal development and networking opportunities with other athletes,” Hannah said. “All of these things helped me get though my PhD.”

For Hannah, sport and academia go hand in hand.

“I think it’s really important for athletes to have something outside of sport that gives them meaning and purpose and something to work towards,” she said. “For me, my research and interest in wellbeing is providing that.”

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