Going to college in the USA and transferring schools part 1 of 2
I made the decision to accept a scholarship to run and study at college in America at the beginning of year 12. I had been representing South Australia at nationals for cross country every year since I was eleven but at the time my biggest achievements were a third place finish at All Schools in the 3000m and winning my age category in the City2Surf. It wasn’t until after track nationals in year 12 that I decided to take my running a little more seriously and consider the opportunities that could come from it if I decided to pursue it after school. I trained a bit more seriously throughout the rest of the year and was able to grab a bronze medal at my last school cross country nationals. Once I made the decision that I was going to go to college it was just a matter of deciding which one to pick out of my options.
There are so many states and colleges in America and I was totally confused by divisions, conferences, regions etc. and I spent countless hours when I should have been studying looking up different colleges and making comparisons. It is really hard to know what you want when there is so much overwhelming information and so many questions to ask yourself such as: big school or small school? Rural, urban, or city? Private or public? Religious affirmation or no religious affirmation? I had planned to go over to visit but with the timing of the season and upcoming junior nationals I was unable to make a trip over. I narrowed down my choices to about five colleges out of the ones that had shown an interest in offering me a full scholarship. In the end I decided on St. John’s University mainly for the location of New York City. The other colleges I were considering were located in smaller cities that I had not been to such as East Michigan, Beaumont Texas, and Atlanta Georgia. I’d been to NYC before and loved it, so I knew that at least I’d wouldn’t be in a place without endless things to do. After running the world junior qualifying time in the 3000m steeplechase and a runner-up finish at nationals I had some bigger schools contacting me about scholarships. I’d already signed my letter of intent a couple weeks earlier and I was excited about going to New York so I stuck to what I’d had already organized.
One thing I could not believe is how long the process is and the amount of paperwork that is required in the process. It can be extremely overwhelming and frustrating. The SAT test, the NCAA compliance forms online, high school transcripts, countless different forms and information about your family, their earnings, winning any prize money, what races you’ve competed in and it goes on and on and never seems to stop! I couldn’t believe that my grades from year 9 were resurfacing, and the time I’d won $250 at the City to Bay was being looked at due to NCAA eligibility rules. On top of that then there was passport applications, necessary immunizations, and flying across to Melbourne for an interview to be approved for a student visa in the US.
It was pretty daunting making a move across to the world to a place I really didn’t know that much about. But although I did end up transferring schools for a better fit, I think I was pretty lucky with the pick of the draw that I ended up with. St. John’s University was a division 1 school located in Queens, New York City and competing in the Big East conference against schools with very competitive distance programs such as Villanova and Georgetown. I had an awesome experience living in New York and competing for SJU but ultimately when I came back for my second year I realized that it was not the best place for me to improve as an athlete and reach the goals that I had now set for myself.
It was the hardest decision to make to leave New York and the amazing friends I had there and the home I’d built there, but the reason I had left Australia was for running and my needs were not being satisfied. The whole thing caused me a lot of agony, but once I made the decision I only continued to see how much it was the right decision to make.
Since I had been in the NCAA for a year and a half I had much more of an idea about what it was that I wanted and needed. I decided that I’d done the East Coast, so I would look at the West Coast. The Pac-12 conference is a very strong conference in all areas of track and cross country, and looking at those schools The University of Washington stood out to me as somewhere that ticked all the boxes I wanted and that I could see myself being very happy.
I flew over to Seattle to visit UW late October and was totally blown away. I saw that it was definitely the place for me and I loved the people and the place and people so much. They have an incredibly strong men’s and women’s team, with an 8th and 10th place respective team placing at the NCAA cross country nationals last November, and most recently a second place performance in the Distance Medley Relay at the NCAA indoor nationals for both the men and women. I chose UW so that I would have a strong group of women to push me everyday, I wouldn’t have to do Sunday long runs alone, for the amazing facilities, coaching staff I could put my faith in, and a beautiful campus and city to live in. I’d been told a lot about the rain in Seattle but I’m sure it’s a lot easier to train through than the crazy snow storms in New York!
Initially I was going to finish out my second year in New York and then start at UW the following year, but once I made the decision to leave I didn’t feel right about staying because my heart wasn’t in it anymore. St. John’s was a semester based academic year, and UW is quarter based so I was given the option to finish up at St. John’s, go home for an Aussie summer and then start Spring quarter at UW in late March. After much deliberation, I decided that this was the best option for me. So I wrote a list of things to do in my last month living in New York and tried to get as many things done while finishing up the school semester.
St. John’s did try to hold me back, they cannot stop a student-athlete from leaving or transferring, but they can not decide to not grant the student-athlete the one time transfer exception which essentially means that they are ineligible to compete for a year after they transfer. I found out during final exams in my last week in New York that I was not being granted a smooth transfer, which would mean that I would not be able to compete for UW until March 2017. I then appealed this decision outlining my argument in a short 4000 words and was given the opportunity to have a hearing with a tribunal at St. John’s that was separate to the Athletic Department. I had this hearing over Skype while I was training in Falls Creek back in Australia in January, and luckily I won the appeal meaning that I was able to compete as soon as I arrived at UW. The transfer was emotionally exhausting and took many many hours of hidden paperwork and correspondence, but I knew that eventually it would all be worth it, and I know for sure now that I was right!
Coming back to Australia for the Summer was the best thing that I could have done. I was craving some summer weather after living in Winter for a long time, and I was able to really up my training and spend quality time with my parents who I miss a lot when I am away! One of the best decisions I made was contacting Adam Didyk to coach me and joining team tempo while I was back in Adelaide. I spent a month at Falls Creek which was incredible. The environment up at Falls is amazing, it really helped me to refocus my goals and gain back some motivation after losing it a bit in the last few months in New York. Training with and interacting with Australia’s best athletes in this magical Olympic year was really incredible. I was lucky enough to have my step dad stay with me for the whole month and be my chauffeur/bike buddy/gym helper/washer and my mum who flew back and forth for half of the time.
Down from the mountains I was able to compete at the Hunter Track Classic, Briggs Track Classic, Adelaide Track Classic, and finishing up with the Melbourne World Challenge where I came 4th in the 3000m steeplechase with a PB at the time of 10:05.69 which was a South Australian open record. It is so awesome to see track and field in Australia really booming at the moment, I was stoked to be able to see some incredible performances first hand at the meets and watch the live stream for the national championships once I was back in the US!
While St. John’s didn’t work out to be the best place for me, I do not at all regret deciding to go there because it was part of my journey as an athlete and a person. I feel extremely lucky that I have the opportunity to live in two amazing cities in America and experience both the East Coast and West Coast. That year and a half in New York made me a tougher person and a tougher athlete. I learnt so much and had the opportunity to experience so many things that I couldn’t have done anywhere else. Some of the highlights included: living in a tiny room for a year with my best friends Marlow and Julia – and then moving into our own house with our own rooms; travelling across the East side of the US competing – including running the anchor leg of the 4x800m at Penn Relays; I experienced the New York City brunch scene; I was able to run through Central Park in a white out; I took a spontaneous one night all-nighter bus trip to Philadelphia with my best friend Marlow to see our favourite band perform; I raced at NCAA East Regionals where I set a then PB for the 3000m SC of 10:10.88 with my parents there watching; and watching my mum run the New York City Marathon twice.