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World-class sprinter and alumna Alyssa Conley flies the SA flag with pride on a global stage

The University of Johannesburg's (UJ) 2016 Sportswoman of the Year, Alyssa Conley, feels truly grateful when she reflects on her 2016 sporting journey. The biggest honours for Conley was flying the South African flag and putting the University on a global stage in the Rio Olympics in Brazil in August this year.

"I was extremely proud to go out there and represent my country, hometown, family and friends," Conley says. "Being surrounded by the world's greatest athletes is truly a dream come true," she added.

Fresh from the 2016 Olympic Games, she is motivated and ready to take on the next challenge.

A Johannesburg native, Conley studied Sports Psychology at UJ and then went on to complete her Honours degree in Sports Management Hons in 2012. Becoming a part of the university's rich sporting culture turned out to be a vital step in returning to the heights of her early career: she credits a UJ physio, Eli Young, with being instrumental in helping her to overcome her injury challenges.

Despite her struggles, including having to undergo an operation on her hip, Conley is not the kind of person who gives up easily. She has learned from her experiences, noting that "Being a successful athlete is made up by many components" – and without proper support, from coaching all the way down to nutrition, one cannot achieve one's full potential. "I surround myself with positive people," she adds, noting how her parents and sister have inspired her to persevere and never lose sight of her core values. "I want to be an inspiration to people with a dream," she says. "You can't wait for an opportunity to approach; you go out there and create your own opportunity!"

When asked about the #FeesMustFall protests, Conley has a measured response, considering the valid concerns on both sides of the debate. "I pray that a common ground can be found," she says, noting that "nothing is ever for free; someone will have to carry the costs". Universities and students should partner with the government to find a holistic solution, as this cannot be achieved without their participation and commitment.

Never one to rest on her laurels, she is already preparing for the 2017 Athletics World Championships in London.