Athlete Feature 06 - Aaron Scott - USA Athletics Scholarships

Athlete Feature 06 – Aaron Scott


Aaron Scott headed for Oregon and the University of Portland in 2010. He left with high hopes of replicating the many distance runners before him who have made massive improvements after a UK to NCAA switch. However, after only three months he found himself packing up and preparing for life back in the UK. He explains his situation in the following interview. His Powerof10 profile can be found here.

tbUSA – What made you decide to go the US?

AS – I had seen how well some of the British boys had been doing in the States and it was obvious that the facilities and funding out there was second to none. Lads like Luke Cragg and John Beattie had improved significantly since going out to the States as graduates and it seemed like a place where if you put in the hard work that you got massive rewards. It was an opportunity that was too good to miss and I didn’t want to look back in ten years and have that burning question inside me of what could have happened if I gave it a go?

tbUSA – Can you talk a bit about the recruiting process, how did you end up going to Portland?

AS – To be honest it was all a bit of a rushed decision in the end. After finishing university in England in 2009, I was starting to look for a ‘proper’ job which was proving difficult in the tough economic climate. I was running well at the time and in the space of a few weeks in June smashed my PB over 3000 and 5000. I wasn’t really looking at America as I thought I didn’t have the credentials to get a scholarship.

However, there happened to be a thread on eightlane from a person at the University of Portland (for a while I thought it might have been Bowser and some of the Lincoln boys winding me up!) seeking a sub 14:30 graduate student. So, I replied and the next thing I know the Coach from Portland is phoning me up and I was sold on his training philosophy and enthusiasm really. The amount of paperwork and NCAA rules to read over was a bit of a stumbling block but we got it done in the nick of time. The main problem for me was that I had already used up four of my five years of eligibility in the UK University system (three years at uni, one working after uni), so the idea was to go out to Portland for a year and then hopefully be able to apply for an extra year of eligibility.

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

AS – A little, but I had to make my decision quickly as the admissions process had pretty much closed a few months before I received the offer. I emailed a few lads who had been or were in the States and they couldn’t recommend Portland highly enough. I like to be quite thorough in most things I do, but there were aspects such as accommodation and jobs that I didn’t even think about in the short time I had before I went out to the States. I pretty much thought that the coach and school could take care of most things for me, but I suppose in hindsight that was pretty naïve of me.s

tbUSA – Was Portland your only major consideration or did you look at other schools? 

AS – After receiving the offer from Portland, I got another couple of emails from a couple of Division II schools in the mountains, but to be honest if I was going to the States I didn’t want to be in a remote part of the country. I knew that the Oregon project was based in Portland so it was obvious that the place was pretty conducive to running and the fact that the school was in Division I was a big pull. Portland was also very much a cross country/distance program, which as a high mileage runner suited me down to the ground. I didn’t really have the time or enough knowledge of the American system to ask other schools similar to Portland for offers, so the decision was pretty simple to be honest.

tbUSA – What happened that you came back after only three months?

AS – I ran out of money! I was on a half scholarship, which paid my tuition and books, but I had to look after accommodation, food, flights home etc. I thought it would be simple to get a job but didn’t realise that an international student visa only allowed you to work on campus. This was made more difficult by the fact I flew out to the US on the weekend that school started, by which time all of the jobs had been taken and it left me in a difficult situation as I had banked on getting an income to support my time out there.

Having a girlfriend back home was also difficult (Roy Keane wasn’t helping me either in his pathetic attempt to manage my Ipswich boys) and the first week or two was especially difficult. So, it’s probably fair to say that I got a little homesick, which is mainly due to the fact that I had so much time between running and class. The main thing which kept me going was that I wanted to experience a full season of XC and the thought of racing in the NCAA cross country championships at the end of the season was a massive incentive. I have to say thought that the coach in Portland was fantastic, his office door was always open to any of his athletes who had problems and he was always available to talk to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

tbUSA – How would you rate your overall US college experience despite its brevity? Did you get involved in much outside of running? What was your most memorable highlight?

AS – It is excellent and I couldn’t think of a better place for Brits to go for both a quality education and to experience some fantastic competition. I met some amazing people and will never forget that first mile of the Cross Country Champs in Indiana. I went through the first mile in the 4:40s and was still in around 180th place, the depth of the race is incredible. If you switch off for a second you lose five or so places and there is quality runners everywhere you look.

Training in Forest Park was pretty special; it’s a huge national park with miles and miles of soft running trails. I did a lot of mileage in there and we often did long tempos in the forest, which was undulating to say the least, one thing that stands out is the 10 mile school record in there is something ridiculous like low 48 minutes! I also remember on one long run in late October, during the Commonwealths, that I saw Rupp and Farah fly past our group followed by Alberto Salazar doing a little jog. It was obvious then that Farah would be then joining the Nike team based in Portland, but the amount of quality athletes we saw in that forest was amazing.

It is shame that our team lost one of its best runners due to personal issues just before the pre-nationals at start of the main XC season. Before losing him we had looked a good bet to sneak onto the podium at the nationals in Indiana and that would have been a phenomenal achievement to be part of. The depth of the teams out in the States also amazed me, we had three guys who were sub 29 10k runners and about 6 or 7 who would be around or dip under 30 minutes so in sessions I never had to take the pace for longer than a few minutes.

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

AS – Have a good look into things before you decide on where you want to go and most definitely go out and visit a few of the colleges to get a feel of things. Take into account that even though Americans speak English and we think of them as very similar to us, this isn’t always the case. They have a different attitude and approach to many things.  I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this but to just be wary of it. I think the best bet for people is to look for a college that has had or currently has British runners on its roster. I think surrounding yourself with similar people who also are miles away from home can help with the inevitable times when you miss things back there. Better still if you can go out to the States and live with people who are from the same club or area as you then I think you have a recipe for success.

In order run well you have to be happy with every aspect of your life and you definitely shouldn’t neglect your mental well-being. But, to be honest any 18 year old undergraduate or graduate coming out of university with no strings keeping them anywhere who receives a sensible offer should definitely take it. Even if you come back after a few months like me at least you can say you gave it a go and return with some amazing experiences that will live with you forever.

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