Athlete Feature 03 - Becky Lyne - USA Athletics Scholarships

Athlete Feature 03 – Becky Lyne

beckylyne

This week we spoke with international 800m runner Becky Lyne. She has kindly agreed to share her experiences from completing degrees at Loughborough and Butler. The 2006 European Championship Bronze medallist finished 3rd in the 2003 NCAA Outdoor Championships and also won the European U23 title the same year.  (Becky’s Power of 10 Profile)

 

tbUSA – Midway through an undergraduate degree at Loughborough University, what made you decide to go to the US?

BL – I’d be lying if I said the fact that my boyfriend at the time, Steve Vernon, was out there didn’t influence my decision, but that was by no means the only factor. I studied Spanish as an out of department module on my Sport Science course at Loughborough and was considering taking a year out in Spain in my third year to get a good grasp of it. I decided against this, however, as I was concerned that my running might suffer. So when the opportunity to study Spanish on an athletics scholarship in the States came up it seemed the ideal compromise. I say ‘compromise’, but I actually planned on not taking my course too seriously, and as much as possible try to lead the life of a full-time athlete. That never actually materialized though as I’m too much of a goody-goody and ended up working even harder out there than I did in Loughborough!

I am also quite adventurous so the idea of immersing myself in a different culture was appealing. My well-travelled parents were also encouraging of this, plus the fact that it gave them a bit of a financial respite from supporting 3 children simultaneously through university.

tbUSA – As one of the leading British athletes at the time you went to Butler, were you concerned that leaving the set up you had at Loughborough would be taking quite a big risk?

BL – Not really. I was already being coached remotely when I was at Loughborough and did the vast majority of my training all alone. So I knew I could trust myself to keep up my work ethic in a different environment. The coach at Butler was also willing for me to continue being coached by my coach back home while I was out there.

tbUSA – How did it work out academically that you were able to split you university education so that you went from Loughborough to Butler, and then back to Loughborough?

BL – Initially it was a straightforward case of just taking a year out of my Sports Science course after 2 years, and then returning to complete my final year following my year in the States. However, I discovered that I could transfer credits from my degree in Loughborough, as well as my A-Levels, and get a full degree out there in just 1.5 years. With a bit of sweet talking to the head of my Sports Science course I also persuaded him to allow me to resume my final year when I returned in January and spread my remaining modules out over 1.5 years. So I ended up with 2 degrees in 5 years!

tbUSA – How were you were able to get a full undergraduate degree from Butler in only 3 semesters?

BL – The system is much more flexible out there. So long as you complete the core curriculum and the required number of credits in your major, you can pretty much fill the rest with whatever takes your fancy. Hence why I was able to use my completely unrelated Sports Science credits to count towards my BA Spanish major. I also did some ‘filling’ with Yoga and Karate modules!

tbUSA – Did you do much independent research about where you were going before heading out to the US?

BL – No, virtually none I’m ashamed to admit. I wish your website had existed back then! Late on I started talking to the coach at Florida State, but by that point I had already established a relationship with the coach at Butler, and having been flown out there to have a look around I felt a sense of loyalty to them and I didn’t want to disappoint them by going elsewhere.  I was very tempted to transfer to Florida though once the Mid-West winters started to kick in!

tbUSA – Did you think about going for a full undergraduate degree straight from school rather than go to university in the UK first?

BL – No, I was almost completely oblivious to the fact that the possibility even existed. I was pretty blinkered in my desire to go to Loughborough and ‘automatically’ run faster!

tbUSA – You have been to University in the UK and the US, what similarities or differences did you find between the two systems? This doesn’t have to be just related to running and can cover anything.

BL – In terms of running, there is a much larger emphasis placed on being part of a team. There is a real sense of belonging and support. I found the overall standard in terms of quality didn’t differ too much, but there was much more strength in depth. From memory there were 62 athletes that ran sub 2:10 when I was there and I had to run 2:03 to make the final of the NCAAs.

Academically, the main difference was in the teaching style. In Loughborough, learning was predominantly student driven with lots of optional extras to develop expertise. Whereas at Butler it felt pretty much like being back at school: small classes, prescribed homework every night, teacher taking the register (part of your grade hinged on attendance)… The upside to this though, was that it was easier to get a good grade if you put the work in. And that’s a big ‘if’ as, despite the fact the work was easier, there was a lot more of it.

Weather-wise, obviously it depends to a large extent on where you go, but in Indianapolis, it’s humid and hotter more consistently and for longer in the summer, whereas the winter can be a bit of a nightmare: -15 degree temperatures and snow constantly on the ground for three months solid last winter! I would strongly recommend that you take the climate in to consideration before deciding where to go.

The food was similar to ours but perhaps a bit unhealthier (and therefore more tempting!) and a lot more of it! Supermarkets were pretty rubbish though as people tend to eat out much more there. There’s also less of a drinking culture as you have to be 21 to buy alcohol, something they strictly enforce.

On a more general note, I found Americans to be much more positive than us ‘modest’ Brits. They really celebrate and value achievement, almost to the point where you think they’re being fickle – but they’re not. Whereas I always played down my achievements back home, I felt much more comfortable being recognized for my success out there. It gave me a real confidence boost.

Just a shame about their crap sense of humour!

tbUSA- Whilst at Butler, you studied for a degree in Spanish. Were you satisfied with the standard of academics and do you feel that a US degree adds value to your CV?

BL – Quite often you hear of American degrees being denigrated as ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’, but I find this a bit arrogant. If anything I have found it of more value than my British degree (which sometimes felt like an exercise in pampering the ego of the lecturer by quoting their research in your essays)

I really enjoyed my degree at Butler. Their core curriculum of maths (sorry, ‘math’), science, English, foreign languages, humanities and sports gives you a really well-rounded education, whilst the value they place on undertaking internships gives you hands-on experience of the world of work. I did internships as a classroom assistant for recently emigrated Hispanic children and worked as a receptionist at a Hispanic centre; both great experiences which counted towards my degree.

So yes, it has definitely added value to my CV and quite often serves as a talking point in interviews – and socially! Aside from academic development, it also showcases confidence, independence and good personal skills in having lived in a different country.

tbUSA – How would you rate your overall US college experience?  What was your most memorable highlight?

BL – Very highly and I’m really pleased I went. I probably shouldn’t say this, but my most memorable highlights were the parties we used to throw in our basement! We used to play ‘flippy cup’ drinking games: USA vs Commonwealth (we had Australian, South African, Scottish, Northern Irish and English people on the team). It got highly competitive!!

tbUSA – Was there anything major that you weren’t satisfied with during your US collegiate experience?

BL – Yes; time for a moan!

I wasn’t aware that you weren’t allowed to have earned any money through running in order to compete in the strictly amateur NCAA. Once out there I discovered I had to pay back (through charity donations) all grants and prize money I had received, to regain my eligibility. Luckily we found a loophole where I could ‘donate in kind’ via clothes donations to charity shops. My wonderful teammates raided their family’s closets till I had the necessary £1000-ish of stuff. It was worth the effort though as the degree I would receive worthy of $20,000 fees per semester!

There were a number of hidden costs that I wasn’t expecting. Books cost a fortune. There was a compulsory ‘activity fee’ to fund the social programme (even if you didn’t want to take part). A car was a virtual necessity. Rent deposit. You get the picture. Not a happy time for a tight Northerner! It cleaned me out.

I was also dismayed to learn once I was out there that UKA had the policy of not supporting athletes in the States. This was a big blow as I was counting on their funding for my physio and massage support. Butler had a comparatively small budget next to a lot of the bigger universities and was unable to offer this in their programme. This small budget also meant that we had to work at American football games to earn money for the programme and to buy our own team uniform – unheard of at the vast majority of colleges.

The winters were shocking.

But it was all worth it.

tbUSA – What advice would you offer to athletes considering the US collegiate system?

BL – Know what you’re worth. Make sure you look carefully at all the options available to you. Although I loved Butler, given my time again I would probably have gone somewhere with a nicer climate and a better budget.

Without wanting to sound xenophobic, I would also recommend that you go somewhere with other foreign recruits. Although we speak the same language as the Americans, there are a lot of differences in our cultures, so it helps to know there are others in the same boat as you that are more on your wavelength.

Go for it.

 

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