She’s the slope star turned high flier who swapped her skis for the skies

Rachelle Rogers tells TASS how life as an elite athlete helped prepare her for a high-pressure career as a pilot.

When first officer Rachelle Rogers soars over the alps en route to her latest European destination don’t be surprised if she points out a favourite resort, a fabulous mountain or a familiar run. The world class skier turned commercial pilot knows the continent’s most famous mountain ranges like the back of her hand and loves nothing more than a bird’s eye view of the biggest and best alpine slopes.

“I’ve flown to Tenerife, Nice, Malaga and Budapest recently but I never get time to check these places out,” said the TASS alumna. “We usually have a 35-minute turnaround time which means we don’t get to stay and visit, however seeing Europe from the skies offers plenty of stunning views. Every time we fly over the Alps I’ll tell my colleagues the names of the different mountains and resorts!”

Rogers harbours no regrets after making the tough decision to turn her back on skiing for a jet-setting career based out of Paris. But every time another snow-capped mountain range comes into view, the memories of an international skiing career come flooding back. 

“The Winter Youth Olympics was the biggest event - and the biggest challenge - of my career,” added an athlete who competed for Team GB at the 2012 games in Innsbruck.

“After that I decided I wasn’t finished with skiing and I set new targets: I wanted to meet the criteria for the World Junior Championships and I wanted to compete at European Cup level. I achieved both.”

As an A-Level student striving to reach the 2012 Winter Youth Olympics, Rogers was supported by the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS). Fast forward six years and she still draws on the lessons learned from a period when the push and pull of sport and education posed fresh challenges and asked difficult questions.

“I became a TASS athlete just before the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games,” she added. “It was perfect timing as I was new to being a ‘professional’ sportswoman and I had no idea about the challenges it would pose. 

“As a kid I’d always enjoyed my sport and never really considered the extra elements associated with be being an elite athlete trying to manage a full-time education. TASS helped me to get a handle on how to combine my A Levels and AS Levels with physiotherapy, strength and conditioning, specific nutritional advice and more. It was invaluable.

“I knew I was facing a big year skiing-wise with the Winter Youth Olympics and so I spoke to my teachers about the best way to achieve what I wanted to do academically. With the support of my TASS Lifestyle Advisor we were able to map out a three-year plan where I studied for my AS Levels in French and PE and then focused on A Levels after 2012. I adapted that plan as I went along but in the end I came out with the results I wanted as well as skiing at the highest level.”

Having represented her country – and excelled as a student – Rogers took the brave decision to re-evaluate her goals. Sensing that her international skiing career might have run its course, a high-flying future beckoned. 

“I started to look at the military because I’d been told there were opportunities to combine sport with a career in the armed services.” She added. “I applied to the RAF and that’s where my love of flying really kicked in. I was streamed into Air Traffic Control which was fascinating but what I really wanted to do was fly. I decided to train to be a commercial pilot at FTE Jerez and now I’m a first officer based out of Paris Charles de Gaulle. 

“I don’t ski at a high level any more but I do fall back on the lessons I learned during my time with TASS. Being an elite athlete helps you to develop a strong work ethic from an early age. You don’t let things stand in your way as you chase your dreams. You just grit your teeth and get on with it. 

“I somehow always find a way to perform and that’s primarily down to the mindset I had when I was skiing. That attitude helped me with the aviation course and I think it’s a great credit to all athletes that they are so single-minded and determined. 

“The one difference between now and when I was skiing is that I’ve learnt to live for the moment. That was very difficult as an athlete – now that I’m older and more experienced I better understand outcome and process goals.”

Rogers also remains keen to reach out to those athletes who struggle with the idea of falling short in their chosen sport – insisting that medal success needn’t define the nation’s very best talent.

“A lot of us won’t reach that final goal and win that Olympic medal,” she added. “But you can turn perceived failure into success. It was hard to stop skiing because it was all I’d ever known. But I came to terms with the fact that I’d done well. 

“And whatever you achieve as an athlete you will take essential tools and skills into your future career. You just need to find a new dream to pursue. For me flying has filled that void.”

 
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