She trained as a distance runner alongside Paula Radcliffe, but Angela Joyce has gone on to excel in another arena.
The 35-year-old has become what is believed to be the youngest general FE college principal for over 40 years after taking the top job at Peterborough Regional College.
In 1967, David Moore established what appears to be the record when he was appointed to Nelson and Colne College at the age of 34.
However, specialist institutions such as art or land-based colleges have a track record of recruiting even younger leaders, with a 27-year-old having taken the helm at Gloucester School of Art before the Second World War.
Ms Joyce said: "For me, I don't see age as a barrier: the secret is you have to earn people's respect. That's been the principle I've followed all my career.
"Whenever I've applied for a job, I've always felt ready. I pick up as much information as I can. You have to go above and beyond to get deeply involved in a wide range of events, activities, projects and learn from the people around you.
"There's a link between experience and knowledge, but not necessarily with age. It depends what you've been able to do."
A promising distance runner as a teenager, Ms Joyce began a sports science degree at Loughborough University when Paula Radcliffe was also a member of the athletics club.
Ms Joyce said: "She was already the star of the show, and it was nice to be around people who were at that level - it was quite inspirational."
At university Ms Joyce decided to become a teacher, taking roles at secondary schools in Leicestershire before deciding to switch to FE. She said it was the greater freedom of incorporated colleges that attracted her, as her ambitions started to turn towards management.
She worked at Moulton College for eight years, developing its sports curriculum before heading to Peterborough as vice-principal, then deputy, before her latest promotion.
"I think I've always been ambitious," she said. "I'm a great believer in setting myself personal challenges. I don't know if I ever set out thinking, `This is what I'm going to do.' But I've always wanted to progress and develop and challenge myself."
She aims to raise the college's inspection grade - currently satisfactory with a good capacity for improvement - and has trained as an Ofsted inspector to give herself more insight, as well as ensuring that the inspection body has the benefit of a serving principal's perspective.
But she acknowledged that it might be a tough time to be a young principal who is new to the job as shifting Government priorities and a funding squeeze leave college leaders in great uncertainty.
Ms Joyce, who also paid tribute to her "very tolerant husband", said she still tries to make time for leisure, riding horses competitively at weekends.
"I'm one of those people who crams their life as full as possible," she said. "Riding is a great stress reliever. My mind is always partly on the college, but when you're charging around cross-country at great speed you need to focus on that."
TAKING AN EARLY LEAD
1934: Edward Pullee, 27, Gloucester School of Art
1967: David Moore, 34, Nelson and Colne College
1970: Peter Williams, 33, Lincoln College of Art
1985: Ioan Morgan, 32, Pembrokeshire College of Agriculture
1991: David Linnell, 36, John Leggott Sixth Form College