"They'll Burn You Out!"

James Alaka, University of Washington

One thing you are guaranteed to hear once you inform people that you will be headed to the USA for university and to run track is “I hope you don’t get burnt out like the rest of them!” If not in those exact words, then some variation alluding to the immense workload a collegiate athlete faces and how it will negatively affect your flourishing career.

I am still waiting to come in contact with the “them” I was warned about; the disillusioned and burnt out track prodigy who wilted under the pressures of NCAA student-athlete life, and now drags their feet reminiscing about the gold medals they picked up as a sixteen year old.

If you don’t hear that, then you will almost get told the fable of the British athlete who travelled abroad only to be forgotten by his countrymen upon his return; I heard that story countless times.

For some reason, there is a negative stigma attached to competing as a collegiate, and the common consensus is that even if you are successful, those good performances will never translate across the Atlantic. I can attest that numerous people expressed concerns with my wanting to study abroad before I enrolled in 2010, and they also shrugged at my sporadically fruitful freshman campaign that same year. I often wonder what would have happened if I had listened to these viewpoints and bought into the paranoia. Thankfully, I was wiser, and understood that my performances would speak for themselves in due time.

Before I studied at the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!) I was a mainstay in Great Britain age group teams from 2007-2009. Initially, I was worried that my lack of visibility in the UK would hamper my chances at making further teams and also, the negative stigma that I mentioned earlier would discourage team selectors from going out on a limb and adding me to relay pools or jotting my name down on team sheets. I quickly came to the realisation that as long as I performed well, I would not be forgotten. I stayed in constant contact with my UK coach, and he in turn assured me that although I was not included in the relay team practices for the pending 2011 European U23 championships, that was purely down to my not being able to get to Brunel University on a Saturday for practice and back to Seattle in time for my 8am Russian History class on Monday.

As the season wore on, I began turning heads with my performances. The closer I got to my impending return to Britain, the more excited I became. Now, in addition to being in contact with my club coach, I was receiving emails from UKA officials, and all I needed to do was perform at the age group championships to book my seat on the plane. I had one competition left on my collegiate calendar, the NCAA championships, and then a week after that it would be time for the trials!

My inner narcissist made an appearance the day before the European U23 trials. I foolishly searched my own name on Twitter. Social media is a gift and a curse, but on that day the gift was non-existent. Three people, who shall remain nameless, felt the need to express that stigmatised view on NCAA athletes and how it pertained to me through subliminals*; that I had ran my fastest times at dubious, backwater American track meets and would not be able to replicate those performances in Europe. That I was all out of gas after a gruelling six month collegiate season. That team selectors would overlook me.

I am choosing to gloss over the next two months of 2011. Not because they were bad, but because bullet points are a lost art form.

  • I placed first (100m) and second (200m) at the England U23 Championships and qualified for the European championships.
  • I won gold (100m) and Silver (200m) medals in Ostrava at the European U23 Championships in July running a new 200m personal best.
  • I finished 5th (100m) and 4th (200m) in Shenzhen, China at the World University Games in mid-August.

Not only did I not get burnt out, I competed from January to August that year, but I also was not forgotten by the decision makers at my national governing body. Turns out that competing in one of the most competitive set ups week in week out in America aided my performance levels. Who’d have thought, huh?

*Subliminals- Popular among millennials, particularly on social media. Used to indirectly address a specific someone or something, while maintaining that your comment was just a general observation.


Post-college: Juggling Working and Sporting Careers

Aliya Itzkowitz, Fencing (Sabre), Harvard University

5:15am. My alarm goes off. I leave my New York apartment. In the semi-darkness I glance up at a framed photo on my wall. 12 women sit in neat rows smiling down at me. I’m sitting in the middle. “Harvard University. Ivy League Champions, 2015-16,” the caption reads. It feels like a distant memory at this point. By 6:30am I’m in my seat at my Wall Street Office, amassing Equity Research from the night before. The majority of my day is filled with answering phone calls and attending investor meetings. My job is to give instant and accurate responses to our clients as they try to make smart decisions. By 6pm the trading floor begins to empty out – but by my day isn’t nearly over. As soon as I wrap up my last email it’s off to Manhattan Fencing club where I am training with members of the US Team. I change out of my dress and heels and put on my mask. By the time I get home it’s around 9pm. I barely have time to eat and shower if I want to get some sleep before waking up and doing it all again.

I just got back from the World Championships in Germany where I came 53rd. I’m currently ranked 1st in the UK and my aim is to qualify for the Olympics in 2020. Only the top 16 fencers in the world will go. A lot of people have asked me how it’s possible to be competing at this level while working full-time – particularly in a field as intense as Finance. In the beginning, I wasn’t really sure it would work. I was afraid of compromising on everything and succeeding at nothing. Instead, I have actually found that my fencing has helped me have a successful first year at work - and vice versa. There’s a unique kind of discipline and work ethic that comes from excelling in multiple areas. Nothing prepared me for that better than being an NCAA athlete. Being a student-athlete involves compromise, but being a working athlete is ten times harder. By the time I’m fencing I've already had a 12-hour work day so sometimes it's hard to push through. Had I not been balancing fencing and academics my whole life, I wouldn’t have even considered this possible.   

Fencing is not a sport that you can make a career out of. I hope that changes someday, but for me it meant that I always had to be realistic. I knew I couldn’t throw everything at my fencing, even if I had wanted to. This dilemma has led some of the most talented fencers I grew up with to quit. In the UK, we are often forced to choose. At university in America, you are encouraged to have it all – excelling at your sport while paving the right kind of future for yourself. I met Sarah [Abrams] in 2012. We have been friends ever since. We are both British athletes who benefited from the US system. When she told me about RightTrack I was really excited. I want more British talent to follow in our footsteps – keep competing at the highest level, while also getting an education that will serve you for the rest of your life.  

I recognise that fencing is a unique, niche sport and that the double life I currently lead wouldn’t necessarily translate to success in other sports. Additionally, the best fencers in the world are often in their late twenties – it's an older sport - so a post-college career was always a real possibility. Nevertheless, I hope that my example can prove to athletes in all sports that your dream doesn’t have to end when you apply to university. As I'm finding, your dream doesn’t even have to end when you graduate university! To say I’m still fencing because ‘I love it” would be true, but also far too simplistic. I am still able to compete with the best in the world because I never quit. Going to University in America enabled me to do the one thing champions always do: keep fighting.

A Parent's Perspective

Hilary Gower, Mother of Sarah Abrams - Academic Director (Harvard '15)

When Sarah’s brothers were deciding on universities, it was quite straightforward as they knew which subjects they were interested in, and quickly found universities that offered suitable courses and provided the extracurricular activities they wanted. It was different when it came to Sarah as she really didn’t know what she wanted to study (or even if!) and British universities offered little opportunity to pursue her passion for athletics. One of her coaches introduced her to the idea of studying in the USA, as American universities offer outstanding facilities for sport. I was initially a bit nervous about the prospect of her going so far away and certainly daunted by the amount of paperwork she (and I)  would have to deal with to get her there, in marked contrast to clear path through the UCAS system. Still, despite a few nail-biting moments and nearly missed deadlines, she was offered a place at Harvard. In what seemed like no time at all we were seeing her off from Heathrow with more bags than I thought she could possibly manage!

                  One of the major advantages of the American university system is that it provides the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects before deciding on a major. This was perfect for Sarah as by the age of 17–18 she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. She was able to expand her knowledge widely and make a more mature choice when deciding on her final main focus of study. Going to the USA also enabled her to broaden her horizons culturally and socially.

                  What about cost? The American college system provides a wonderful opportunity for students who play sport at a high level. Those with the required talent may be offered full sports scholarships that cover not only tuition fees, but all living and travel costs, and sports and health-related expenses.  Others may be offered more limited funding in the form of a partial sports scholarship or a needs-based scholarship according to family income, so a parental contribution may be required. It’s worth weighing this up against of the cost of studying at a British university. Here, student loans are available to cover tuition fees and to help with living costs. However, most parents will find themselves having to provide substantial financial support to their sons and daughters as the loans simply do not cover the full cost of a student living away from home. So the parents still pay and the student ends up with a huge debt!

                  When Sarah decided to apply to American universities, we navigated our way through the admissions process unaided. It took a considerable amount of time and effort to get everything together. Apart from the main application process, there were numerous other things to sort out, including admissions tests, funding, NCAA registration and travel documents. We got through the process by trial and error, but I would highly recommend getting some help with it. Based on their own experiences, Jonathan and the team at RightTrack have developed the expertise to help with all aspects of the application process and ongoing administration to get your son or daughter across the pond with the minimum of stress.

                   So was it all worth it? Sarah experienced a couple of bumps along the way, but certainly nothing worse than she might have encountered at university in the UK. She was a long way from home but we were in regular contact by Skype, and I probably kept in touch more with her than I did with her brothers when they were studying in the UK! Overall it was an incredibly positive experience for Sarah. Going abroad presented her with new challenges that she would not have faced had she stayed at home, and she gained strength and resolve as a result. The broad programme of study enabled her to find out where her interests really lie, and she has recently embarked on a career in medicine. As a result of her American adventure, she now has firm friends in many parts of the world.

There is a tendency these days for parents to micromanage their children and perhaps to overprotect. It is tempting to set them on the well trodden path, based on our own comfort zones, but it’s far better to support them in making their own decisions. Encourage them to spread their wings and see them fly!

Top tips for success on the SAT and ACT

Jennifer Shinton, Kaplan Test Prep

The SAT and ACT tests are often required for university admissions. It's a requirement for becoming academically eligible to play an NCAA sport. Check out some top tips from Kaplan Test Prep to help you practice and prepare.

Time Management

  • The SAT and ACT are important tests. Allow enough time for your preparation – at least 2-3 months ahead of exam date - and ensure you have a good night’s sleep before test day so you can approach the test feeling well- rested and confident.
  • Plan when to take the SAT/ACT.  

o   There are only six test dates throughout the year for each exam – know these dates and book ahead!

o   Registration deadline for both exams are around a month before test date.

o   Give yourself time to take the exam twice if necessary.

o   Talk with registrar to learn a school’s score submission deadline.

  • Manage your time strategically during the SAT/ACT. These are timed tests! Pacing is important and can make all the difference when it comes to having enough time.


  • Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice, the more familiar you will be with the format and style of the questions on the SAT/ACT. Try at least 1 full-length practice test for free as a first step!
  • Have a strategy for each section. This will help you feel confident tackling the test – and will help you not to panic with the harder questions. This is where the benefit of test prep comes in!
  • Success on the SAT means knowing the exam! Understand all sections of the SAT and ACT exams. Many students are stronger in one area than others. Strengthen your areas of weakness by studying and preparing!

Test Tips

  • Answer every question! Now that there is no wrong-answer penalty for the SAT or ACT, it’s best practice to answer every question no matter what.
  • You may use a permitted calculator on the SAT and ACT. Some models and features are prohibited. You are responsible for knowing if your calculator is permitted and bringing it to the test centre.

Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to SAT or ACT success! Good luck!

Conference Championships - Best Weekend of the Year?

Shola Olojo, Triple Jump, University of Memphis

Aside from nationals, the conference championship is the biggest team-scored meet on the collegiate track and field circuit. Even before stepping onto the track for the first day of Fall practice, it is a date, excuse me, THE date circled on every head coach's calendar and bookmarked by every athlete.

The University of Memphis is in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) along with Houston, Connecticut, Temple, Tulane, South Florida, Central Florida, East Carolina, SMU and Cincinnati. Each year, our conference championship meet pits together elite talent from each program with aspirations of capturing the ultimate prize, but even more important, securing bragging rights. Houston has dominated the AAC league since it's formation in 2014. Carl Lewis, one of the greatest athletes of all-time, holding a conversation with you in your living room is usually enough to lure any top high school prospect into the sprints and jumps stable of Houston.

Conference isn’t like your usual outing, it’s more like a business trip. You are expected to arrive at the bus dressed relatively smart. For us that meant wearing a Memphis team-issued polo coupled with some nice trousers and shoes. For our trip to Birmingham AL, the team left Thursday morning at 8am sharp. A pit-stop for lunch around 12pm, and straight to the team hotel. Once we were settled, a short trip to the stadium for a shake-out.

As I walked into the stadium, the enormity of the occasion hit me like a ton of bricks. It was somewhat reminiscent to that of a gladiator arena. Other schools started arriving and getting their pre-meet workouts in too. Every team was decked out from head-to-toe in their signature colours so it was easy to identify who was who. At that moment, you feel nothing but pride in your school colours. As a Memphis Tiger, I’d always throw on that fresh cut of blue and grey as if it were armour.

The atmosphere at the Birmingham Complex was thick with tension, you'd almost want to grab a knife in an attempt to slice through it all. Athletes measuring their run-ups, sprinters adjusting their blocks, some flying over hurdles. My attention, however, was drawn to the sandpit located at the far side of the complex. I ventured over just to get a feel of the surface. “It’s fast!” At this moment in time, various thoughts began to race through my mind. What's the atmosphere going to be like at 5:40pm tomorrow, when the Men's Long Jump final kicks off? Has Houston signed a gem that they've been keeping locked away all season?

My wistful thoughts were broken when I locked eyes with some opponents for a brief moment. Some of whom I was already familiar with, having competed against them the previous year. Nothing else followed but a stern nod in their direction.                                                                      

After the pre-meet workout was completed, it was back to the hotel with the rest of the team. I left with somewhat of an unshakable satisfaction that the Conference Championship was finally here. It was time to put up or SHUT UP!

Day One – Men’s Long Jump. I scratched some huge jumps in my first two attempts. And found myself in the awkward situation of having to get a “safe” jump in that also needed to be far enough to qualify for the finals. Somewhat of a paradox. 6.92 metres - I finished 11th and did not make it through to the finals. Not the best of starts, considering I had picked up the silver medal last year.

Day Two - Men's Triple Jump. The shackles were off now! This was different as I was coming in seeded no.1. I couldn’t afford to drop the ball on this one. Sure enough after a rather tentative opening round, I caught a jump in the second round - 15.40 metres. Now the whole field was under pressure and they began to press. The rounds kept on ticking over, but still no response. UConn had thrown a potential big one in the final round but it was a foul. I did it! I finally realised one of my dreams ever since making that trip across the pond: CONFERENCE CHAMPION.

Man, that still feels good to say.

The trip back to Memphis was like a movie. Overall the team had finished 4th, which wasn't bad considering we had some of our big players missing. Nonetheless, we were going to celebrate what had been a rather long indoor season – party at the “Track Shack”! I was greeted with a warm embrace by some members of the other University of Memphis teams; women's volleyball, men's and women's soccer and tennis. There was so much going on that I just needed to take a step outside to soak it all in.

A brief moment of calm.

At the back of my mind however, I’d already started plotting about how I was going to do it all over again. The outdoor season was just around the corner and this crazy ride was only going to get better.


A Track & Field Perspective...

Ollie Newport, University of Louisville, Long Jump


I had been looking at American colleges ever since many of my training partners had told me how much fun they were having and how great of an opportunity it was to continue your sport and earn a degree. I was fortunate that I had a few decent marks and one very good one that attracted the interest of a few coaches from various universities. One piece of advice and something I wish I had known when I was in the recruiting process was not to leave it too late. I didn’t sign till April and by that point a lot of the universities I was in talks with just didn’t have enough money to give me the scholarship I needed. The university I ended up attending was definitely not my first choice at the time. It was somewhere I had never even heard of and I know a lot of my friends still don’t know exactly where it is. After scrambling to try to find a university that could offer me the scholarship I needed, I emailed a few places to see what they would say. 5 minutes later I had an email back from the head coach at the University of Louisville saying they would love to offer me a full ride and they were super interested in signing me. Fate would have it that their current long jumper had just left to go home because of a family emergency and so they were looking for a replacement.

4 things instantly drew me to this university and I would advise anyone else to look at the same criteria. First was the coach. He had over 40 years of experience and coached the likes of Brittany Reese and Larry Myricks. I really think a coach can make or break your college experience and so this was something that was very important to me. I’m sure Jonathan will tell you, if you are really serious about your sport, you should pick the coach over where the university is located. Second would be try to connect with alumni from the same university. I was fortunate that Ben Williams was already at Louisville. I got a different perspective and a unique insight into what life would be like at Louisville.

The third and fourth pieces of advice I would give are not necessarily things I held of huge importance at the time but now I realise how much of an impact they can have. You may look at a school and base your decision solely on how good they are at your sport. Sure, that is obviously extremely important. But, something you have to understand is how much money Football (American) and Basketball bring to a school and how it impacts your sport. The big schools have the recruiting power because they can build the best facilities and they have the most money to drive into sport. Smaller schools have less recruiting power and so their sports may go up and down in quality. This is something I have noticed here at Louisville. We are very lucky in that both our Football and Basketball teams are top 10 programs meaning the amount of money that goes into all sports is unbelievable. To put it into perspective our Basketball team bring in around $1.2 million per home game! Louisville’s Track and Field team is not a top 10 program right now. However, with the success of our bigger sports we are quickly improving as a team due to having greater resources, facilities and recruiting power.

My last piece of advice is the degree program you choose. This is honestly something that had very little influence on my decision. I was a very different person when I started looking at universities to the person I am now. When I first started at Louisville the only thing I cared about was trying to become a professional athlete and the degree came second. After my freshman year I realised that being good enough to be a professional was extremely hard and very few people make it. It was at this point that I decided to change my degree and really give 100% to my sport as well as the academic side. I changed from an Exercise Science degree to Accounting and later added a CIS minor. I feel this change has had a huge impact on my life. I went from someone that hadn’t really cared about my academics all through high school to someone who was winning the scholar athlete prize on the team and earning consistent 4.0 GPAs. This also allowed me to land an internship at Ernst and Young this coming summer which will hopefully lead to a full time career post college.

In summary:

  • Pick your school based on the coach and the program you feel is best for you.
  • Don’t neglect the other sports in the schools you are looking at. Basketball and Football will affect you. Even if it’s just the tremendous pride in your school having a current Heisman winning quarterback!
  • Look at the conference the school is in. (ACC is the best conference despite Jonathan telling you SEC is the best).
  • Open your eyes to a whole world of new opportunities. You will be doing things you never even dreamt of. I can assure you if someone had told me I would be going down the public accounting route 4 years ago I would have told them they were crazy! You will truly develop as an athlete but also as a person.
  • Lastly enjoy your time in college. Work hard but enjoy every moment of it. (Okay, maybe not studying all day for final exams).

Going to the US was the best decision I ever made. It has given me the best 3 years of my life and changed me for the better. GO CARDS!



Rankings - The Full Story

Sarah Abrams


Ranking lists are pretty cool – they give us immediate, objective information on the quality of schools or teams compared with one another. They tell you which school is the best, which is the worst, and apparently even identify the exact order of all those in the middle... (!)

But who creates these rankings and how do they compile them? There is no mathematical algorithm that can accurately measure and calculate the order of so many factors. This is shown in the notion that no two rankings lists are the same; how do you decide which to trust?

Think on a football team. One player might score all the goals and thus put them top of the “rankings” for the team, but are they the most valuable player? What about the defender who blocked the most shots during the season? This analogy reflects the need for different rankings for different aspects of a team, and a sophisticated approach to understanding each player’s worth.

For a university, we might need a rankings list for quality of research, breadth of extracurricular activities, % of students who graduate straight into a job, average salary 5 years after graduation, sports teams with national championships, quality of the town or city the school is located in (which itself can be based on many factors – the population, culture, nightlife, average house price, restaurants). We can’t possibly fit ALL of these into a comprehensive rankings list. And some of these factors may not matter to you – you might not care where the university is, but you might be very focused on the results of the sports teams. When looking at rankings lists, it is important to consider whether they are an accurate reflection of what is important to you.

By all means, use rankings lists to garner some information. They may help you to refine the list of schools you are looking at, but don’t forget to look outside the list. In our previous blog, Jonathan talked about the decision he faced in choosing between programs. UCLA and UC Davis come up higher than Missouri in general academic rankings, but did it address the aspects important to him? UPenn, an Ivy League school were also interested and who wouldn’t want to be there? He went into depth however to understand which university would be best for him to get the most of his specific sporting and academic goals. He was a prospective International Studies student, looking for a unique university experience and wanting a coach that could lead him to greater successes in his event and thus made his decision specific to these preferences. It pays to really consider what is important to you and do some deeper research to truly understand the quality of the university, and whether it's right for you.

You must analyse your own profile and compare it with the profile of the universities you look at to find the best fit. Maybe you really vibe with a coach, maybe you are amazed by the research going on in the neuroscience department. Whatever it is, make it count. Rankings don’t tell the whole story. Make it your own story.

What's a Brit Doing in The Midwest?

Jonathan Ilori


Friday 6th January 2012, I said my goodbyes, made the lonely walk to departures and embarked on my journey to the US. The University of Missouri was my final destination. After a recruiting process that lasted over a year, and going back and forth with coaches on the east and west coast, I naturally settled for smack bang middle of America. How a two-horse race between two Californian programs resulted in me deciding to go to the Midwest, my friends still ask me today. But my decision was not to be based on the weather, on the social scene, or the brand name of a university. It was the coach. At the time, Kareem Streete-Thompson was the horizontal jumps coach at Missouri, and for me he checked all the boxes. He was an Olympian, a master of jumping and a Manchester United fan. His knowledge of all things British was music to my ears. I often tell students today, find a good coach and you will find a good program. That was my approach to the recruiting process. Let’s go back to that Friday 6th January. I got off the plane to immediately greet the bitter Missouri winter. After a short wait, I saw a black SUV pull in – out came Kareem. A short embrace. As we drove through campus, I felt goosebumps. Going past buildings and facilities I had only seen through a computer screen. It felt surreal. It was at that moment it hit me, “I’ve finally made it here."

Much of my first few years at Mizzou were full of these surreal moments. Nothing about the town itself blew me away. I was a Londoner after all, in a town of about 150,000. But the sports facilities, resources and sheer size of absolutely everything made my jaw drop. The football stadium held over 70,000, the weight room dwarfed the South London gym I was accustomed to, and the food was unlimited – literally. But where would I be without talking about the gear… Mizzou was sponsored by Nike, so as student-athletes we got access to some pretty nice stuff. I won’t go into too much depth, but when you arrive at your university, you’ll see what I mean… People often ask me what living in Missouri was like. It was of course very different to London, but one of the major things that stood out to me was how friendly people were. If you walk down Oxford Street saying “hi” to people and asking how their day’s going, you’d likely receive some strange looks. But such was the norm in “CoMo”. I’d be walking in a grocery store or just around campus and people would greet me. While we’re on the topic of friendliness, important to note the British accent is much stronger in the Midwest... Moving on. As a student in the US, I did get to experience some of the typical American college activities, such as tailgating, playing beer-pong with red solo cups and unnecessarily wearing my hat backwards. As you can expect however, many of my highlights were in some way linked to sports. There are too many to list so I’ve got a top 3 for you:

1.     Watching Mizzou Basketball beat Kansas in Columbia (see video!)

2.     Jumping 16m for the first time at a home meet.

3.     Walking across the stage during graduation.

If you are a student and I’m your adviser – you’ll hear more, trust me. There were so many moments that make me look back and think “wow I wish I could do that again”. My time there was great, but there were also some tougher moments; I had knee surgery, I had to deal with a coach change and I did not qualify for the National Championships in my final year. While at the time, these were very upsetting experiences, they are part of being a student-athlete and more importantly one’s growth as a person.

I wasn’t the only Brit in the Mizzou Athletic Department. There were 7 of us (a whole tribe!) – two tennis players, two golfers, a swimmer and a soccer player. While we all went to Mizzou for different reasons, the consensus amongst all student-athletes - Americans and Non-Americans - was that it was like being in one big family.

So what was a Brit doing in the Midwest? Having an awesome time, that’s what.