An Athlete's Perspective - Thomas Chamney [aka Madra] Part II - USA Athletics Scholarships

An Athlete’s Perspective – Thomas Chamney [aka Madra] Part II


The decisive year came, however, in 2004-2005 when I actually decided to take a year out of college and focus 100% on my athletics. The reason for this being that I wanted to make the Irish team for the European U23 Championships.  I viewed this as being the potential zenith of my career. Thanks to a small grant from the Irish government and a nice loan, I cobbled together the funds and headed to Colorado to train with Irish indoor record holder Dan Caulfield (now head coach at Uni of California Pennsylvania) who was based up at Adams State in Alamosa, CO. I can say now with my hand on my heart that if I had not made this decision I would not be running today and I would not have reached the level that I compete at now. Caulfield taught me so much about how to lead the athlete lifestyle that I should probably get his name tattooed across my forehead. We were up at 6am 4 days a week to get the morning run in and every day we logged more and more steady mileage. That summer I put together a good campaign, getting my time down to 1:48.7 and finishing 5th at Euro U23s, which for me was a big deal. I was unfortunate that I couldn’t blag my way into a decent race because I knew I had a big time in my but what can ya do?! It pumped me up for the future and gave me a glimpse of my potential.

So back I went to Notre Dame, full of the joys after a good summer at home. I put in another good winter and for the first time made the NCAA finals in the 800m Indoors, coming 6th in 1:48.50. I was now banging out 1:48 pretty much every week. Outdoors things only got better as I was the first Notre Dame athlete in the history of the program to win an NCAA regional title and I headed to NCAAs hopeful for progressing past the first round. Instead I ran a PB in every round to come 6th again in 1:47.70. Off I headed to Ireland where the good times continued and I clocked a 1:46.83 to shock everyone, including myself. Holy sh@t I thought! I really am a legend! Ok, not quite, but I was quite happy with how my career was beginning to formulate itself. Every year I had taken things a little more seriously, logged the mileage and was sensible about my social life and it was starting to pay off. My progression had come about organically, the more work I put in the better I ran the more I enjoyed it. The real problems didn’t begin until my final year, when things got swiftly out of control.

My studies were going well. Having headed to the States seeking a marketing degree I quickly realized just how boring that would be, so I switched to Film, Television and Theatre. However, I again realized that there are no jobs in that so I added on English as a second major…but then the film production classes would’ve clashed with training with the team 3 days a week so I ditched it and just focused on the English. One of the greatest assets to the American system is its flexibility. You can change majors as many times as you want until your final year, whereas in the British Isles this is a lot more complicated, if not impossible. Also I feel that there is a much more positive relationship between the students and the professors. I remember many a Saturday night being invited out with my classmates to a professor’s house for dinner. I particularly remember hitting the local Irish pub after a race with one of my film professors and a rake of the lads from the team where we wrapped up as evening of carousing by stamping out the tune of ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ on the tables of the bar. Anyway, my point is that the American way of university education is much more flexible and personal that what I’ve experienced back at home. There’s a far closer relationship between professor and student.

My last year in the States is probably the one that leaves the bitter taste in my mouth. I’d placed 6th twice at NCAAs, popped out the 1:46.83, won the Irish champs and made my first Irish senior team for the European Championships. But in an effort to push on in performance I went completely bananas with the training. Things started well indoors when I won my first 5 races and clocked a 1:47.83. But that was the last solid race I had as I faded hard from simple overtraining. I struggled to an 8th place finish at the NCAA Indoors, battling the flu. This was extremely disappointing given my good results up to this point but in the need to keep my confidence going I had kept trying to bang out session after session before the champs, instead of kicking back and chilling out.

This is where the lack of sheer foresight on the part of the head coach led me down an avenue of no return. Instead of being told to back off the training or take a week off or a day off or anything, I was advised to keep pushing, keep pushing. Come outdoors things only got worse. I got a nice stretch where the coach lashed me into 9 races in 5 weeks, each one involving arduous travel arrangements. Needless to say I was fried. I didn’t even make it to the NCAA championships. I went from being one of the pre-season favourites to not even getting to the starting line. I couldn’t wait to see the back of Notre Dame at that point. My last few months certainly weren’t my most memorable. I felt isolated due to the fact that the very people who were supposed to be imparting their expertise on me were giving me the completely wrong advice. And being the way I am, never one to back off, I foolishly listened to them. That’s the downside to the States I suppose, they pay you your scholarship, you do what they tell you. While I had developed so much in America as an athlete and as a man, it was a stressful time at the end and not a good way to wrap up my time there. Being pushed into races that I had no business running and not being in a position to tell the staff to piss off was tough. That is why it is very important to do your research on the university you want to go to. Talk to people who went there before you, go on letsrun and see what kinda posts people are putting up on the message board there. And go in with your eyes open. I was lucky that I had gotten the most out of Notre Dame I think I could have, a top class degree and a major breakthrough athletically. I moved on at the right time but if I’d played my cards better or had another sounding board other than the system itself, such as a coach at home or someone from outset the system to use, I think I could’ve wrapped up my last year much better off. Having said that, I came home after Notre Dame that summer, took 10 days of easy jogging and proceeded to clock 1:46.46 as a new personal best as well as clocking 1:47.3 or better 5 times. It just proved to me that if I had been given the chance to be rested over in the States I’d have performed well at NCAAs in my final year.

Overall I wouldn’t take back my decision to go to America. I learned how to train properly, learned the lifestyle required to be a successful athlete. I am a man of limited talent but I feel that I’ve learned how to get the most out of myself and I’ve kept on improving since my time at Notre Dame. I do not see the States as somewhere to go if you are already blasting out world-class times, but if you’re on the verge of elite and feel like you need to get a support structure around you to progress, you’ve got to go, you’re a fool not to go. Nowhere else in the world will you get physio, gear, travel, facilities, everything at your fingertips while working your way to a degree. Not everyone is born to compete professionally but if you think you have a chance and you’re not top of the pile (ie European Junior medalist or some such accolade) get over to America. You’ll soon learn what you’re made of. And if it doesn’t work out on the athletics front, you’ll probably end up with a hot wife, Americans are mad into that sh*t. Make sure you invite me to the wedding.



By the way, I’ve run 1:45.41 and 3:36.83. I’m Irish and have competed for the national team in a few major championships over the years. I attended the University of Notre Dame from 2002-2007. We’re talking old school here.

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