US Scholarship Series: Should I stay or Should I go? Part One
The first in a multi part series, we attempt to provide prospective student athletes with an insight into the american scholarship system. Instead of speaking to athletes who have been on scholarship in America or Ireland, we will be speaking to athletes who have experience of both systems.
Craig Murphy was a strong performer on the domestic cross country scene, winning several club cross country titles, schools cross country titles as well as an Intermediate Schools 3000m title. He also ran several respectable track times such as 3:50(1500m), 8:19 (3000m) before running 14:08 for 5000m and 29:37 for 10000m whilst on Scholarship at Iona College in New York. He was best known for his cross country exploits with a 48th place in the Junior World Cross Country (2008) and 19th in the European Cross Country (2008). He attended Dublin City University for one year before attending Iona College in New York for four years.
How did you get started running?
I was in PE in school and we did the “Beep Test”, I got the school’s highest score. Not long afterwards the athletics coach at the school asked me if I wanted to go to a cross-country race and get a day off school. Didn’t take long to decide on an answer. I won the race and the rest, is history.
What made you choose DCU?
I wanted to stay with my coach who I had been so successful with for so long. We had a long term plan and it was the one that way laid out for me since I was 16yrs old. I also, wanted to get a good education which I believed wouldn’t have been the same if I went to the US.
What made you leave?
I got into a great course and I did really like Enda Fitzpatrick. I think he genuinely understood why I was leaving and really made me comfortable with my choice. I left due to the fact that I really felt frustrated being an individual athlete surrounded by athletes. There was a group but far too many people(myself included) had their own coach, which left an very individual environment.
How did you end up deciding on Iona?
I spoke with other colleges about going to the US and spent a huge amount of time deliberating on this decision. Iona seemed very genuine. They had a hugely diverse team from all over the world. They simply said come out on a visit and see for yourself what you think. I did and loved it. The team was fantastic, the facilities were great for such a small school, and the training seemed like something which suited my previous training.
Did other Irish athletes coming over in the past and their success influence your decision to go stateside?
It did. I think every athlete truly believes(or wants to believe) that their career will go all the way. If you look back at the golden age of Irish distance runners they all went to the US, and it seemed like to me at the time, that Ireland just hadn’t caught up. The depth of competition in the US just meant you could get quality races every other week.
What is a typical day at American university like?
Depending on the season(cross country/track) your day looked a little different. During cross country you had team training later on in the day. This meant that if you wanted to double, it meant getting up earlier in the morning to get out for your morning run. Coaches were flexible if you wanted to go longer in the morning and shorter in the evening so long as you were at team practice and did your post run exercises & strides when they were present. This was a chance for them to talk with you about training classes etc.
During track season we had the track earlier in the day, therefore, for the season, we had team practice earlier on in the day and if you wanted to double you could do it yourself later on in the day. You know the times of your training at the beginning of every season, meaning you schedule your classes to fit with your time frame. A lot of the team lived within close proximity to the college and because the team truly was like one big family, between classes everyone ended up in house and people would come and go all day as they had classes. It was a great environment largely because of how close-knit the team was. You found people who you could take classes with, you always had someone to double with, you never ran alone, which in a largely individual sport, is something that just makes life so much easier.
Do you find it hard getting a balance between your academic and sporting commitments?
No, life as a college athlete, especially as a runner, is designed around makeing sure the student part of student-athlete comes first. We are almost held at a higher standard to other collegiate athletes, which may not seem fair but it does help you to become more focused, in my opinion anyway. You always know your training times prior to each academic semester, thus, there are no excuses to miss either class or practice.
How would you rate your time in the states?
It was truly enlightening to what life would be like as professional athlete. I know you have classes and have to keep up a GPA, but if you take that away you are getting paid to live and train with other like-minded athletes. It was the first time in my life where I felt that I was in an environment where I did not have to look at myself like an individual athlete, pushing myself, by myself for myself. I had a team to help push me and made training fly by.
Would you recommend Iona to a prospective student athlete?
I truly would. The environment was amazing and the diversity of the team just means that you have an athletic and cultural experience all at the same time. Added to this you have miles and miles of trails at your doorstep and Van Cortlandt Park and NYC so close at hand. The small college environment may not be for everybody but once you get to know the other sports teams it will change your mind, as we really make up such a huge percentage of the students on campus.
Would you change how you went about your time?
I am not the type to look back and regret choices I have made, I tend to pick something and stick with it. I mean I am now living in San Francisco with my girlfriend(who I met at Iona) and have a job which I love. It all works out the way it is meant to. Athletics wise, I got injured awhile at Iona, and don’t blame anyone but myself for it, and although it went on a lot longer than it had to due to misdiagnoses, I think my athletics career had reached its sell-by date. I tried to get back into athletics for a short period in Ireland but the injury kept on nagging. I think life didn’t have professional athlete in store for me, but, you start to see other things that you’d love to do with your time.
What are the advantages of an American university?
They just have money that allows athletes to solely concentrate on college and athletics. You really just forget about life in the real world for four years. You become steeped in this place that becomes your home and fills you with this sense of pride that you want your team to succeed. The people around you really become like a family. I think in Ireland you may have a team around you and you want to celebrate the teams successes but in the end of the day it is a group of individuals making up one unit, whereas, in the US it is very much a team.
What would you consider the down sides of the American system?
It is slightly geared towards American kids who have been steeped in this environment of team orientated athletics the entire way through high school. When we get over there as largely individual athletes, you have to change your mentality as well as your training model. No matter how well the coaches concentrate on everyone on the roster, there is only a certain number of places on each team. You will have to fight for one of those spots and training will become competitive and you have to be mature and stick to the type of training that got you there. This can be very difficult even for a very mature person as you no longer have your individual coach behind you any more. You have to take on the challenge of making your own choices.
Next week we will be speaking to one of Ireland’s biggest American advocates about the choices young athletes have to make.