Athlete Feature 10 - Luke Cragg - USA Athletics Scholarships

Athlete Feature 10 – Luke Cragg


This week Luke Cragg takes the spotlight as our first featured athlete to attend an NCAA Division II school. In three years Adams State College, Luke has progressed from county standard to now become one of the fastest British athletes over 5000m and 10,000m. Luke finished his collegiate career in style by winning the 2011 NCAA DII 5000m Championships. Luke’s Powerof10 profile can be found here.

tbUSA – Did you have any options available to you around the time you graduated from Leeds in 2008? Was going to America always something you aspired to?

 LC – I only started training seriously during the latter stages of my first year at university so it wasn’t anything I had considered before as I didn’t really know anything about it. As I improved it began to be something that I gave some thought to but it was only really a pipe dream at that point. I began speaking to some schools around Christmas time during my final year but I didn’t finalize anything until June time.

tbUSA -How did you find yourself at Adams State? Can you describe the recruitment and admissions process?

LC – I was speaking to a few schools and they were interested but they seemed to be keeping their cards quite close to their chests regarding a firm offer. I was a 14.36 guy and as it was summer they were probably hoping that I could improve on that, but I was injured so that wasn’t going to happen! A good friend of mine Drew Graham who was also living in Leeds had already agreed to go to Adams State. The coach told him he was after one more 5k/10k guy so Drew gave him my phone number. Coach Martin called me up and told me about the caliber of guys they had on the team and the good training environment (altitude, dirt trails, sunshine) and wasn’t even worried that I was injured at that time. He was so confident in his coaching ability that he made me an offer there and then. From there I had to wait for my I20 to arrive, book my visa interview and get some plane tickets. In terms of academics I knew they had a good human performance department that offered a masters degree that was ideal for me. As it was late and the head of the course was English he said to just bring my transcripts with me and we could sort things when I got there.

tbUSA -Was it always your intentions to go to a D2 school and if so why did you make that choice? Did you have any options available to you in D1?

LC – To be honest I didn’t really know too much about the division system. Most of the schools I was talking to were D1 by default. However I was less concerned with division and more about finding somewhere to spend 2 or 3 years where I felt I could really improve and Adams State offered that. Right at the last minute a couple of D1 schools came in with offers but I told them I had already signed with Adams.

tbUSA -Was the fact that Adams is situated at high altitude a factor in your decision making? How much did you know about this before going?

LC – It was definitely a key selling point of the place and was something I was looking for in prospective schools. I did a spell of training in Font Romeu in 2007 and seemed to come off that quite well so was hoping to be able to go to an altitude school and try and reap the benefits of being there a for at least a couple of years. Alamosa where Adams State is located is at just over 2300m which is much higher than somewhere like Font Romeu so my coach at home was a little weary of how it would pan out but it worked out great in the end.

tbUSA -Prior to heading to the US your PB’s stood around 14.30 & 30.00 for 5k & 10k. These have since been lowered to 13.41 & 29.10. What would you say has been the main reason for the improvements?

LC – If I had to pick one main factor it would be consistency. I couldn’t seem to go 6 months in England without picking up some sort of injury which would keep me out for a couple of months. I spent three years in Alamosa and can count the number of days I couldn’t run due to injury on one hand, and even then I would run twice on the anti gravity treadmill. Due to the consistency I was able to run more each season and complete harder sessions which inevitably led to better race results.

tbUSA -Can you talk about your academic endeavours whilst at Adams? What degree did you obtain and do you plan to make use of it now that you are back in the UK?

LC – I got two masters degrees in my time at Adams State. One in exercise physiology and the other in sports administration. I enjoyed the academics much more than I did during my undergrad at Leeds. The classes were small (under 10 people), you could get to know your lecturers well and there were some lively debates. This was quite a contrast to one person lecturing to an entire amphitheatre like I had been used to. I’m still a bit undecided on what to do at the moment but there is no doubt that having two masters (something I would not have been able to afford to do had I not gone to America) will be helpful when applying for jobs or further study.

tbUSA -You had a somewhat drawn out university career, beginning at Leeds back in 2005 and just recently graduating from Adams State in June 2011. What do you intend to do now post graduation?

LC – I’m not 100% sure to be honest. My decision would have been much easier if I was American as I would just have joined the Hansons (Brooks post-collegiate group). A good sized group of guys, all focusing on the longer distances and putting in big mileage weeks couldn’t be more up my street! Unfortunately like a lot of the American post collegiate groups they don’t take foreigners. I would have liked to start a PhD this coming semester but I was in the USA when most universities were conducting interviews so that wasn’t feasible.

tbUSA -You were part of a very successful team during your time Adams, especially cross country. Was it ever frustrating that you were not able to compete in more D1 meets against?

LC – Not really as the only meets we couldn’t compete in were the D1 championship meets. We beat Oklahoma State at their home meet the year they won the D1 XC championships which was nice. If anything I looked at the fact that we competed in separate championships as a benefit to me in terms of gaining experience in those sorts of races. By my third year I was able to be competitive at a national level in D2 and managed to upset pre race favourite Amos Sang to take the outdoor 5k title. Running against several sub 27.30 Africans in D1 I wouldn’t have got that experience.

tbUSA -How would you rate your overall collegiate experience? What were the high and low points of your three years?

LC – Going to America was without a doubt the best choice I have ever made. Not only did I improve a lot as a runner but I also think it helped me grow up quite a bit. It’s a big move; you don’t know anybody when you get there and your pretty much starting life from scratch so it was a great learning experience. The high points were definitely the four team championships we won (3 xc and 1 indoor track) as well my individual 5k title. As they say the first one was the sweetest, especially as we weren’t favoured. Abilene Christian had won several cross country titles in a row with their team of excellent Kenyans. We had showed throughout the season that we had closed the gap but then we lost our Kenyan who was also one of our top guys a week before the national meet in a quad biking accident, and people totally wrote us off after that. With a combination of a bit of luck with the weather (freezing cold and snowy) and some of us really stepping up we managed to get the win. That day (and night!) will probably be some of my fondest memories for a very long time.

tbUSA -What advice would you offer perspective student athletes considering the US collegiate system? 

LC – I would say do everything you can to get out there. There really isn’t anything to lose. Chances are you will make improvements in your running, get a free degree, have some great trips to races etc and make some lifelong friends. The worst case scenario is you won’t like it and you can come home at Christmas. Make sure you do your research to try and give yourself the best chance of it being the former. The key things I would say are to check that the school you are looking at goes to the good races (Seattle indoors, Mt Sac and Stanford outdoors), make sure there will be training partners of an appropriate level on the team, check that the weather will not be too extreme either way and also speak with the coach to make sure that you both have similar philosophies towards training.




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