By Toby Walker
Six years ago, Yamba's Kim Adams had some tough decisions to make.
As the owner-manager of the Washing Well commercial laundry, and a mother of two children under 10 years of age, Ms Adams didn't have much time for anything else after she had looked after the dual responsibilities of her business and her family.
But when a recurring back injury, agitated by lifting heavy washing loads, forced her to take six months off work to recuperate, Ms Adams' life changed forever.
Suddenly taken out of the well-trodden path of her daily routine, Ms Adams considered her future and resolved to swap the laundry for the lecture hall, in turn realising a life-long ambition to attend university.
Fast forward to 2005 and showing no signs of back trouble, 41-year-old Ms Adams is flying high in the academic world after it was announced this week that she would be one of 13 recipients awarded Southern Cross University's (SCU) highest honour, the University Medal. Ms Adams' impressive grade point average of 3.20, achieved during the completion of an Honours Degree in Business Tourism, is the impetus behind the award but by no means her first academic accolade.
Since arriving at SCU's Lismore campus in 1999 to begin a Bachelor of Business in Tourism, with a view to one day owning a hotel, Ms Adams has collected a number of prizes for her class-topping work.
She has also worked as a lecturer for SCU and earned a scholarship to undertake PhD studies this year.
And while she probably won't earn a medal for it, she's managed to juggle the demands of university with the challenges of being a single parent to her children Lauren, 14 and Ben, 11.
"I knew it would be difficult, I knew my main problem would be finding the time to do full time university because at that stage I was new to being a single mum and I was going to have to travel two-and-a-half hours a day to Lismore," she said.
But Ms Adams did find the time.
Ms Adams thinks the hours between three and six in the morning are the best time to study because 'there's no interruptions, the house is quiet and everyone's asleep'.
The support and encouragement of Ben and Lauren, when they're not sleeping, has also helped.
"They've been very patient and understanding when I have been studying and I was actually quite pleased that when I did eventually get my certificate they still remembered by name," she said.
"I've always thought getting a degree is not a destination, it's a journey.
"It does gives you more confidence and broadens your horizons.
"I never anticipated going into the academic community five years ago."