Siblings balance pro-cycling with university studies at NIC

When Nigel and Gillian Ellsay aren’t racing professionally as part of the 2018 Rally Cycling training team, they take university transfer courses at NIC.

Nigel and Gillian Ellsay are talented cyclists and students who balance their athletic and academic goals by taking NIC university transfer courses while racing as pro-cyclists as part of the 2018 Rally Cycling training team. 

While Gillian races primarily in North America, Nigel competes mostly in Europe with races in France, Portugal, Spain, Great Britain and the United States. The pair were recently featured in Canadian Cycling magazine.

What are you studying at North Island College?

Nigel: I’ve only been taking fall semester courses because I race from February until mid-September. I am looking to eventually do a philosophy degree from UVic because I would like to go to law school post-cycling and I feel like that’s the best prep program for me.

Gillian: I take four courses on campus in the fall and two courses online in the winter semester. I’ve been taking online courses in the winter semester since I started at NIC. The library resources I need are online and teachers are accessible through email so it works great. This semester I’m taking history and English. I’m considering pursuing a Bachelor of Education but I’m also interested in journalism.

How many races do you typically take part in through the year?

Nigel: It averages out to about every week and a half. Our season in North America is quite short compared to the European calendar. We race from the end of March until the middle of September so I think I did 55 race days this year. Next year the team will do half the races in North America and half in Europe and I’ll probably race around 60-70 races.

Gillian: I’m in around 40 races a year. My first professional contract was with Colavita-Bianchi in 2017, and I gained a lot of experience at some of North America’s biggest races and am thrilled that this year both my brother Nigel and I are racing as part of the 2018 Rally Cycling training team.

What is your typical training day during a semester of school?

Nigel: This morning I rode for three hours and did some low cadence interval training. After I finish talking to you I’m going to sit down and do some schoolwork, and then this evening I have a gym workout planned.

Gillian: During the training season I get up around 7:30, go riding around 9 am and then head back for lunch and spend the afternoon resting and doing homework. I go to bed pretty early.

How do you balance your training with your studies?

Nigel: I’ve been pretty lucky. Every once in a while I skip a training session, for instance during midterms and finals, but I still average about 20 hours a week on my bike throughout the fall. We need a lot of sleep so it just means that I have no social life.

Gillian: It’s definitely a lot to balance during the winter semester because the training load is harder and you’re moving around more. I’m on my bike 18-22 hours a week and try to carve out a couple hours each day for homework. I find it a lot easier in the fall. I ride 10-14 hours a week. I’m taking more courses but the hours aren’t as long. During the week my focus is school but on the weekends I focus on riding.

How do you maintain the discipline and organizational skills to maintain such a regimented schedule of training and cycling?

Nigel: It comes down to trusting the program and trusting myself, not losing focus. I don’t know, I just kind of do it. I’m not sitting at home watching four million Netflix programs. I don’t think it’s for everyone but I think there’s a reason athletes make good employees. They are good at planning their days and getting the work done when it needs to get done.

Gillian: I try not to procrastinate because that can really catch up to you. Organization is key. I look at what’s ahead and if I know I have a lot of exams or assignments I lower my training to accommodate schoolwork. It’s important to have a good support network of family, friends and teachers, if people understand what you’re trying to do they are more likely to help you.  

By living at home while you study, have you been able to avoid student loans?

Nigel: I haven’t had to take student loans out. I’ve actually been saving money. I have probably got three or four years of savings if I decided to stop riding. I’m being carded through Sport Canada so I receive a monthly allowance. You can also get up to $5,000 toward tuition. Cycling has a professional side so it’s not just an Olympic amateur sport. There are some sports, which don’t have any professional side to it, so that’s where the Sport Canada funding really comes into play.

Gillian: Living at home with my parents in the fall semester means I don’t have the living expenses that other students would have. I am carded so receive Government of Canada sports funding. There aren’t scholarships set up specifically for cycling so living at home and going to college in my home community helps me save money. My parents are really supportive so they help wherever they can.

What would be your ultimate cycling goal from where you are now?

Nigel: I would really like to compete in 2020 in Tokyo but for road cyclists, the Tour de France is almost a bigger goal than the Olympics. The tour usually has 22 teams and 17 of those are automatically invited World Tour teams. Then there are five wild card spots for pro-continental. I’m on a pro-continental team so we wouldn’t get an invite. We’d have to be a wild card and most of those go to French pro-continental. For myself, ideally in two or three years Rally Cycling has an opportunity to do that in the next few years, or if not I’d like to eventually be on one of the European teams or pro-continental teams that do that.

Gillian: I’d like to continue with Rally Cycling next year and after that I’d love to be able to race in Europe.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Nigel: Ideally I’ll be living in Europe racing on a World Tour team. But if I can’t be professional I want to have a really good fall back plan, having a philosophy degree so that when I’m done racing, I can go to law school.

Gillian: I would like to be racing in Europe on a Women's World Tour team. But if that does not pan out then the plan will be to have my Bachelor's of Education finished or almost finished.

NIC is committed to helping students reach their goals. Educational advisors are available to help create a study plan and connect to NIC’s wide range of services and resources. Call 1-800-715-0914 or email to book an appointment. Visit to learn more about NIC’s wide range of university transferable courses.

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