George Nixon, a promising rower, has graduated this week from Loughborough University with a degree in BA (Hons) Politics and International Relations.
“I was nervous to come to University because I had a tough time at school,” said George.
“I was born with a bilateral cleft lip and people used to take the mick out of it when I was growing up.
“At school I didn’t fit into a particular social group, I wasn’t good at sport and I wasn’t very popular.”
George underwent his first cleft lip repair surgery at Great Ormand Street Hospital shortly after he was born and he had a bone graft at the age of 13.
Just months before starting University, he had a third procedure on his lip, when his face had fully developed.
“I was worried that University was going to be a repeat of the years I experienced at school,” said George.
“But when you come to University, there are so many more people, everyone is much more mature and are interested in you as a person.
“If you join a society or get involved in sport with people who are likeminded, you are able to fit into a group of people who are very much like you.
“I decided that I should try out a sport at University and being quite tall, I thought rowing might be for me and I’ve never looked back.”
Starting as a beginner in his first year, George has excelled in his sport and is Captain of Loughborough Student’s Rowing Club and has just rowed in the Henley Regatta.
He said: “Walking into the first rowing social was where I met all of my best friends and I fell in love with it. It’s been a big journey and I’ve worked hard over the last three years.
“Rowing has had an enormously positive impact on my University experience. It’s taken up a lot of time and it is a big sacrifice, but it has made me a more disciplined person.
“If you told me that I would be sat here today, Captain of the rowing club and rowing at Henley Regatta, I wouldn’t believe you.”
In his final year of university, George decided to run the London Marathon in aid of Smile Train, a charity which provides corrective surgery for children with cleft lips and palates.
He said: “I was fortunate enough to have access to surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.
“There are thousands of children around the world who are born with cleft lips and some don’t have access to any facilities. They can’t eat, they can’t talk and in some countries, they are ostracised from their communities.”
George raised more than £3,000 for the charity by running the marathon and this means many children around the world are now able to have life-changing operations.
George said training for the marathon while studying and rowing, wasn’t easy but University taught him that if you have the mindset to succeed, you will do it.
“My time at University has made me more confident in my ability and it has taught me to work hard to achieve the goals that I want to,” he said.
“Loughborough University is very supportive, and the politics department were really good. I had a personal tutor throughout the whole of my time and I always had someone to talk to.
“If you put the work in - over the three years - you can achieve more than you could ever dream of.”
After University George is hoping to take a year out to pursue rowing more seriously.