American Scholarship Series: David McCarthy
David McCarthy was an incredibly talented junior while at St Augustine’s College In Dungarvan. The West Waterford athlete won a host of national titles as a youth. He won silver medal in the 800m at the Youth Olympics and an U23 5,000m bronze. He was the Irish age 16 record-holder for 800m (1:51.22). In total he won 10 Irish Schools titles in five years and uniquely held the Intermediate Boys 400m, 800m and cross country titles concurrently before moving to Providence College. Whilst there he ran an incredible 3.55 mile and was part of the Irish team which won u23 Team Gold at the European Cross Country. Since returning to Ireland he has attended Dublin City University.
How did you get started running?
My mother used to compete in the sprints and long jump when I was very young, so I used to go to the races on Sunday’s with her and I started off running in the “tiny tots” races! Then at the age of 7 because I was winning all these races, my mother brought me down to our local running club at the time K.C.K.
You went to Providence after school, did you ever consider staying in Ireland?
Maybe for a brief time I thought about staying at home but the excitement of going to the states on scholarship and doing something completely different made the decision easy. I also love travelling so going to America as opposed to staying at home just felt more appealing.
What was your experience in Providence like?
My experience in Providence was amazing. Looking back on it now I loved every minute of it even through the ups and downs of my running. Every athlete will go through tough times and to think you can avoid it no matter where you are in the world isn’t reasonable. That is part of the whole journey.
All I have is my experiences that are unique and personal to me. I can’t tell people what’s the best decision for them, but I can share my experience and let athletes decide how best to make their own choices.
Providence College was very good to me, from the coach, to lecturers to friends and teammates. Looking back now my time there thought me a lot more than just about running and I’m very grateful for that.
At times when you are not where you want to be with your running, it can be very frustrating for an athlete and you begin to question your choices. That’s a natural response for any athlete because all they are trying to do is be the best they can be. It’s all about learning, and once I’m learning, I’m happy.
What was a typical day at American university like in your time?
My typical day was perfect! I’d get up at 7am and head out for a morning run. I’d then have class from 8:30am – 9:30am, but on the way to class I’d grab a coffee just to keep me going through the lecture! Then after the first class I’d head to the canteen for breakfast where the choices of what to eat were endless. I’d then have another two classes that might see my through till midday or just after. I’d then take a nap before we would have team practice at 2:30pm every Monday-Friday. After practice we would shower up and head to dinner usually around 5pm where I would sit, chat and have a laugh with the team for hours! Then for the rest of the night I would do whatever college work I had to do for the next day. The American college system is more continuous assessment so we would have a little bit of work to do all the time. Before bed then we would usually hang out, make tea and maybe watch a movie…. All in all my perfect day!
What are the advantages of an American university?
There are plenty of advantages in going to an American university. One of the main things which attracts athletes is that your education and athletics are completely free if you are on a full scholarship. For my 5 years in Providence I had everything paid for, from my room, food, tuition fees, and books. That is separate to the athletics department where I had an endless supply of running gear and shoes plus treatment and all the transport to and accommodation at races.
Having people to train with was probably the main attraction for me. Having lads to run with all the time especially for harder workouts, it’s such a help and more fun. It’s a lot easier to get up in the morning for a run when you have company too. Everyone keeps each other going.
The competition is endless over there and the standard is world class. There is no shortage of races and competition to push you on. Some people will look at that as a negative, too much racing, but that’s international running. There’s no better place to get broken into the professional world of athletics than the NCAA system. Again each to there own, but there’s such a buzz at races over there you just want to be fit and healthy and out competing. I felt I was lucky compared to other athletes in different universities that I didn’t have to compete as much as them because Providence didn’t have too big a track & field program where we would have been trying to compete for team titles.
Getting away from Ireland and home was also a great experience. It’s good to see what’s out there. I’m the curious type and always looking to learn new things and see different ways of doing things and that goes beyond running, it is a way of life. Ask anyone that travels it’s the best form of education.
What would you consider the down sides of the American system?
It’s hard to label down sides to the American system because everyone’s experiences are different. What’s a down side for me might not have been for someone else and the same can go anywhere in the world. But I suppose what was tough about the American system was when it was all over. No matter where you are or what organization or institution you are in, everyone has their own agenda and that’s understandable, but the athlete needs to be aware of that.
The reality is that when you sign your contract to take a scholarship for 4 years, that contract is only for 4 years, after that its up to you what to do next. I think that’s what I found the hardest thing to handle after graduating, wondering what to do next. For my 5 years in Providence I didn’t have to worry about a thing. All my races were lined up every year, I had training partners without having to go looking for them and there was just a lot less thinking and more running.
This down side is no ones fault only the reality of the system. This isn’t hidden from us but we all think it will never happen to us. I think it’s an area that could do with a lot of work and help. Not every Irish athlete when they graduate are in a position to get sponsored or can afford to live the lifestyle of a professional athlete wherever they are in the world. If you are not sponsored or working then you can’t stay in the USA due to visa rules.
Would you recommend Providence to a prospective student-athlete?
Again what was good for me may or may not be the best choice for someone else. What I will say is go take your recruiting trip and get a feel for the places you are considering going to. Providence was a good fit for me and at the end of the day I did my best running while I was there.
What made you leave America and come back to Ireland?
As I mentioned earlier once I graduated there was no support in America for me to stay there. Providence College supported me for my 5 years there which I am very grateful for. Once you graduate though, the college isn’t responsible for you any longer and unless you get sponsored or can join a training group there really isn’t any other option but to come home.
How did you end up deciding on DCU?
I moved to Chris Jones’ group a year after I had come home to Ireland. I wanted to be based in Dublin and train there because that’s where all the support is. Obviously living in Dublin costs, so I had to think how could I make this work without having to pay for rent but also have something else to occupy myself with. Going back to college seemed like the best move.
I met with Enda Fitzpatrick and Niall Moyna; both of them were extremely helpful and very accommodating and still are.
You came to DCU as a PHD student, Did you find it hard getting a balance between your academic and sporting commitments?
No I didn’t find it challenging at all as I was used to doing that for 5 years in the states. The balance is good and I find the college lifestyle perfect for training if you use it in the right way.
How did your experience in DCU compare to Providence?
They are two completely different experiences. I never expected or looked for them to be the same. My experience in DCU after being in the states would be completely different had I decided to never go to the states and go to DCU from day one. My experience of the states and being 5 years older makes a huge difference when starting off the college life style again.
I’m very happy in DCU. I love the campus and people there. Before I went to the states I didn’t know that many people in Irish athletics apart from the ones my own age that I would be away on trips with or competing against. Since living in DCU and Dublin it’s been amazing getting to know so many athletics people. That side of it makes the days when you’re not running well a lot easier. I’ve made a lot of good friends through my running and that alone I’m very grateful for.
What do you think Irish Universities can do to bridge the gap in terms of supporting their athletes?
It will take a whole lot of people coming together for one good cause which is the athlete. Ireland is a small country with limited resources but far from limited talent. I believe there is an Olympic champion in every town in Ireland. Athletics is still a minority sport here, we have limited funding and everything seems to come down to money. I think a lot of good can be done that doesn’t involve money, with people of common interest helping build something that could be successful and enjoyable for all. We don’t always have to look to the universities or institutions to be the only ones with the answers. I think coaches and athletes need to be as open as they can to helping everyone and learning from each other.
There is no one answer because anything that could be done would be of help. No matter whether you are successful or not you are always looking to be better.
Is there a difference in attitude between the Irish and American Scholarships students?
Yes I think so but that’s because the American system drives the kids to be as good as they can. To be the best you can requires full time commitment. The NCAA system drives kids to work hard because of the standard of competition they are competing against. Most likely any Irish kid going to America on scholarship wants to run and work hard. That’s not saying a kid staying at home in Ireland couldn’t equally be as driven but for the ones that aren’t as driven, the NCAA system tends to drive you more.
You have had a difficult summer with several injuries. Have they cleared up?
More like a difficult year! Nothing I haven’t dealt with before or can’t deal with again. That’s part of the sport, getting injured and learning how to overcome it and learn. Right now I’m recovering from a stress fracture in my sacrum. I’ve never had a stress fracture before so this is a nice first one to be dealing with! I still have a while to go before I get back running. In all my years running I’ve never stopped running for more than 4 weeks at one time. I’ll be well breaking that record now unfortunately!
Have you set any goals for next year?
I have no goals for next year only to get back healthy and appreciate everyday I can run.
Any plans to return to the States or will you continue in Ireland ahead of Rio?
I don’t have any plans yet. Right now I’m not running so I’m not thinking about it.