Becoming a champion: how Holly Archer managed a work career alongside competing at the pinnacle of athletics and what we can learn from her experiences

“There is uncertainty for professional athletes about what the next step is and where they go once they can’t compete anymore. I hope my experiences balancing work and athletics can serve as an example of what can be done with a little guidance and support to secure a great future.”
Holly Archer – Indoor Athletics Champion & FutureProof Ambassador

Resilience. Dedication. Hard work. A drop of good fortune. And perhaps a touch of creativity. That’s what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the sporting pyramid.

In athletics, that summit demands you be in the top 10 in the world just to reach a final, never mind win a medal. It requires gruelling physical work and incredible mental toughness.

Nobody understands that better than Holly Archer, National Indoor Champion for 1500 metres and newly appointed ambassador at FutureProof.

Holly’s career has seen her travel the world for training camps, competitions and racing, and to the top of the indoor championships last year at the age of 28.

And yet all the while Holly held down a job, finding ways to train around work commitments and sourcing innovative solutions to realise her dreams.

We caught up with Holly to find out more about her incredible journey, her aspirations for her ambassadorial role and what lessons she’s learned.

Holly Archer - Athletics Champion - FutureProof Ambassador

Finding mental strength is most of the battle

“I’ve always wanted to do everything as fast as possible,” Holly explains. “Whether it was the cross-country races at school or my paper round.”

This fiercely competitive streak has been put to the test throughout Holly’s life.

At school, aged just 10, Holly came fourth in a cross country race, beating many of the boys in the process. She was accused of cheating.

“I got in a lot of trouble, I remember it vividly,” recalls Holly.

“The teachers made a big deal of it despite me saying that I hadn’t cheated. My dad then took me to join a running club and I won the race the next year, feeling vindicated that I didn’t cheat and could win.”

You could forgive Holly for not wanting to take part anymore, but that simply isn’t in her nature. The injustice of it all spurred her on – early proof of her mental toughness and desire to win.

Holly’s involvement with running grew from there, winning local, then county and national championships in the junior setup.

Ultimately, her success culminated in a scholarship to the USA to race and train there. A big challenge for any teenager, moving out of home, to a new country at such a young age

“All of my friends were going to university and I found it really difficult,” says Holly. “But I knew that I wanted to follow my dream and so I left at 18 and went to SMU in Dallas.

“It was a turning point. They treated me like a professional. It has a great track program and really good coaching and you are thrown into a fiercely competitive environment with races every week.

“The level of discipline required, the demands of the school to deliver results, and this new way of life drove a huge shift in my mindset. You have to want it.

“And failure could see the sponsorship removed, which means, not only do you have to leave the college, but the country too.”

Stay creative to find a path forward

Training between lectures and racing at the weekends, Holly was learning how to fit life and work around her passion. It would prove to be a vital skill on her journey to the top.

“I studied for five years completing my undergraduate and masters in sports, marketing and business,” explains Holly. “I’d get up at six, train and be back for classes at nine.”

The fierce and constant competition in the United States pushed Holly into her academics and made her think differently about how she might make it pro.

“I started thinking more about how good I could be,” says Holly. “Focusing on my next step. My next improvement. My next growth opportunity. My personal best.

I worked for four years after college and had to be creative to keep pushing myself forward, looking for any opportunities to develop my running and improving my times.”

Holly had reached a plateau and needed to find where the pros had an advantage and then work tirelessly to close that gap.

“I discovered many athletes go to altitude camps and spend weeks there to elevate blood production. I realised I had to go and experience it,” remembers Holly.

And this is where Holly thought laterally and made her own luck. She understood the power of her story and pitched sponsorship to her employer.

It was a compelling narrative and her employer was prepared to sponsor her trips and keep her role open for when she came back from competition.

“I worked with my employer to turn it into a sponsorship and promotional opportunity,” says Holly.

“We got creative to find ways we could make noise about it, make the sponsorship almost fund itself through generating awareness and elevating the company.

“We wrote press releases, branded my kit and created promotional content from the camps.

“All this effort and investment makes it about more than just you. You are responsible and it’s an additional drive.

“You have to believe in what you’re doing and get people on board with what you’re trying to achieve,” says Holly. “You have to be strong minded, resilient and creative to get to where you want to be.”

Holly Archer - FutureProof Ambassador

Bridging the gap into the working world

Holly acknowledges her story is not typical, but believes her experiences can provide valuable lessons for other athletes looking to subsidise their professional career or even build their future one.

“The traditional route into professional athletics here in the UK is for sponsors to provide everything you need to focus on your sport,” says Holly. “And it’s easy to become accustomed to that.”

While focusing on sport may be seen as a tremendous advantage, Holly believes it can leave athletes unprepared for what comes next – particularly if you don’t make it to the very top.

She wants to share her story to show that there is another route and that it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be all or nothing.

“I think having to work alongside training and be driven and totally committed was invaluable,” explains Holly.

“The desire to win is so applicable to a business world, you just need someone to channel you in the right direction and let you run!”

The ambassador programme at FutureProof is all about sparking conversations with athletes and helping inspire and guide them in their transition to the world of work. I recognised that our sporting skills are not just transferable, but actually help us excel.

Nobody understands athletes better than other athletes and so we empower our ambassadors to educate, coach, inspire and engage others.

“I’m looking forward to bridging the gap between business and sport,” explains Holly. “Throughout my career I have found that sport opens doors and I am keen to talk to more athletes about supporting their journey.”

“I want to talk about how I used rest time to learn skills, create connections and make myself available for work. How I attended events, learned through trial and error and built a network.

“But above all I want to help them feel more secure in their future and encourage them to start thinking about it now – if they aren’t already!”

Looking to access a different talent pool?

Here at FutureProof we focus on helping professional athletes transition into the working world. Speak to us today about accessing a diverse, driven and unique pool of talent for your business.

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