Athlete Feature 05 - Toby Ulm - USA Athletics Scholarships

Athlete Feature 05 – Toby Ulm


We spoke to Swindon and Georgetown 400m hurdler Toby Ulm. He talks about his experiences in a relatively low-key track program at Georgetown Hoyas. His Powerof10 profile can be found here.

tbUSA – You have just recently completed your four years of eligibility. What do you plan to do after graduating?

TU – I graduated this spring as a double major in Philosophy and English Literature, but due to some injury problems in my freshman year I’m coming back to Georgetown for a fifth year’s eligibility. I’ll be running and studying for a Master’s Degree in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. I’m dabbling with the idea of going to law school too. Since my Dad moved back to Texas about a year ago (He’s American and my mum’s English) I would get in state tuition at the University of Texas Law School, which is a top 10 programme. Duke Law also looks interesting though.

tbUSA – How were you recruited by Georgetown? Did you consider going to any other universities in the US or UK?

TU – I actually contacted them, along with Boston University, and Stanford to a lesser extent. It’s actually a funny story since my Mum was initially hesitant to let me go at first. I remember her driving me to training in Swindon in the rain during the winter and persuading her to let me go. I struck a deal with her that if I finished in the top 10 or so in the world as an U18 then I could go. Basically I needed around 52.5 (my PB was 53.30 as an U17 from the year before) and I ended up winning the ISF World Schools in 51.97. I then ran 50.99 at the U20 Euros the following year so could more or less get a scholarship to any school I wanted to go to. I didn’t want to go to one of the big track schools though. I was concerned that the education you receive there wasn’t what I was looking for, and coming from a small town I didn’t want anything too big. Georgetown was perfect. I never looked at any UK schools because although it’s about $50,000+ a year at Gtown the scholarship covers it so it ends up being in my financial interest.

tbUSA – What type of scholarship were you on whilst at Georgetown? Was it academic, athletic or needs based?

TU – I am on a full athletic scholarship. With Gtown being a private school they can’t give international kids needs based aid. Therefore, the track program has to burn a track scholarship on each of our international athletes (we’ve got myself, 1 Jamaican, 1 Ethiopian, and a few Canadians).

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

TU – I didn’t do that much research to be honest. When I was looking at school in 2006ish we didn’t have sites like or Flotrack, so sites like this are fantastic places to learn about different universities out there. I knew quite a lot about different schools, however. My dad played American Football at Rice back when they still had black and white telly and was recruited by all the big programs so he helped me out a bit. My coach, David Hemery, went to Boston U, where he later became the head coach for a while, and Harvard so I had a reasonable understanding for different schools.  I knew I wanted to be on the East coast where most of the top academic institutions are.

tbUSA – Georgetown is traditionally regarded as one of the top academic institutions. How would you rate your academic experiences at Georgetown?

TU – Academically, Georgetown is a fantastic place to be. After your first year where some of the big lecture classes range from 75-400, the class sizes drop right down. Most of my major classes rarely got past 30, with some being as few as 8-10. They attract some really top class professors, you know the type that actually wrote the book, or are the main people cited in other people’s text books. It really did a lot for me. I’m definitely a smarter, and I hope a better, person for having attended. It can be hard to say I’ve got a wider worldview though. Where there a lot of kids with similar backgrounds to my town, Gtown attracts more than its fair share of the jet set. It’s not unusual for kids to drive round DC in their brand new Range Rover, and I’ve some friends who honestly fly to Dubai for the weekends to pay polo occasionally. And being in class with people who want to be Senators and eventually President ups the ante in the classroom, but my favourite academic experience was working in the Writing Centre for the past two years. My job was really to make people who were much smarter than me, sound like they were smarter than me.

tbUSA – What would be your interpretation of the term ‘student athlete?’ How did you manage to combine athletics and academics?

TU – I think unlike some of the big state school track programs, that term is the right way around at Gtown. You are a Student–Athlete, not an Athlete-Student, so if you’re just looking to run Gtown probably isn’t the place for you. That said there is a big academic support network for athletes, although I was fortunate enough not to require their services, and in fact I ended up being part of that support network for some athletes. Combining the two was never a problem for me. You just get on with it really, and while my non-athlete friends (we call them G-Poppers at school, which stands for general population) don’t always understand why I’ve got to leave the library at midnight regardless of how much work I’ve done, or can’t go out with them on Monday and Thursday night, it’s just a Gtown athlete’s regular life. The one downside though has been internships. Living in DC there are some amazing work experience opportunities, be it with the UN, World Bank, various embassies (I live on the same street as the French Embassy) and every Federal Government agency, which I could neither take advantage of during the school year because of track, nor the summer because of the domestic season.

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

TU – I love Georgetown. My overall collegiate experience has been great so far and I hope it will continue next year. For me, DC is the perfect city, and I’ve made some great friends to share it with. As for track, my most memorable highlight has to be setting my PB for the indoor 500m in New York. Being in good enough shape to cruise through splits of 22.1 and 47.7 and bring it home in 61.6 was a perfect day. When everything’s flowing and you feel like you’re just gliding, that’s why I run. Just for that feeling.

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

TU – Not that I can think of.

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

TU – Finding that balance between the school and the coach. Find a coach that’s interested in you and YOUR goals. Some coaches will try to use your talents to their advantage and not care all that much about your domestic ambitions. Find a coach that shares a similar training philosophy to your own and one that you will expect to be there for your whole tenure at that particular school. Finding a good coach that’s the right fit for you is the trick. But, if you’re interested in the school side as well, and not everybody is and that’s fine too, you have to strike a balance between finding a coach and a team that you like, and one that fits in with your academic ambitions. Oh, and visit all the websites like and that’s not just a plug!

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