Athlete Feature 22 - Matthew Graham - trackboundUSA

Athlete Feature 22 – Matthew Graham

matthewgraham

This week’s athlete feature is with DePaul’s Matthew Graham.  The Scottish athlete is in his senior year at the Chicago based school and has seen considerable success during his four years in the NCAA, including representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland in both the 2010 World Juniors and 2011 European XC. His Power of 10 profile can be found here.

tbUSA – You are studying at DePaul, Matthew. It’s a university that many will not have heard of. How did the whole process come about? Were you speaking to other schools?

MGI had been in contact with a host of other schools in the time leading up to my decision to attend DePaul. Some contacted me but none of them were really what I wanted. I was torn between going to a large athletics powerhouse or a school with a good academic reputation. So I started to contact some of the coaches myself. However, I quickly realised that my PBs at the time were not good enough for many of the big schools.

I was advised by some coaches to wait a few years and then come out to the US but I really didn’t want to be starting university at 20 and graduating at 24. So I stumbled across DePaul. I was looking for a D1 school that was in the north (Yes, I was one of those people who had negative thoughts about living in the South) and near a big city. DePaul was the perfect fit. It offered me a first class education, the opportunity to complete in a large conference (Big East) and best of all I had the world’s best playground on my doorstep, Chicago.

tbUSA – What were you looking for in you college decision?  Student-athletes have many desires when choosing a school, be it location, academics or athletics? Given DePaul’s reputation, we assume academics played a major part?

MG- I may have jumped the gun a bit in answering the last question but yes academics was a major factor for me. Before making the move I spoke to a number of people who had been through the NCAA system and the one thing they all said was make sure you get a solid degree. The range of degrees available in the US is huge and as such many UK employers will not be familiar with them. I didn’t want to waste four years of my life getting a degree that is worthless to a UK employer.  If I was going to go to the US I was going to make it worth my while. But also I wanted to go to a university that was near a large city for the opportunities that it would present me with in terms of work experience, internships, and jobs and also for the fun factor. I mean not many people can say they were in Grant Park when Obama gave his victory speech in 2008. As for athletics, I think the Big East speaks for itself.

tbUSA – Many schools in the US are focused on a campus environment. Schools like OSU, A&M, Penn State and Indiana are all examples of small college towns. How is living in a city like Chicago?

MG – Chicago is an amazing place to live in. There is nothing better than going for a morning run along the shores of Lake Michigan with the sun glistening of the water and the sky scrapers of downtown gleaming in the sunlight. Summer in Chicago is also a huge plus factor. There is always so much to do, a personal favourite of mine if going to the beach. DePaul’s location in the city is in a place called Lincoln Park which happens to be one of the wealthiest parts of the city. I think the average house price is around $1-2,000,000 so it’s a really nice place to live and study in.

tbUSA – Since attending DePaul, you have made good progress.  Your PBs have dropped from 8:44 to 8:09 and from 15:07 to 14:13 this year.  Describe your training and coaching setup which have enabled this impressive progression curve.

MG – I think the main factor in my improvement has been the change in environment. The fresh start I got from moving to the US gave me a new burst of energy. It was a chance to re-invent myself so to speak.  For cross-country we practice in Lincoln Park (it’s like the Hyde Park of Chicago) as well as also going out to forest preserves on a Sunday. For indoor track we have a 200m banked track and our outdoor track is a 15 minute jog from campus.  In the past year my training philosophy has changed greatly. My coach, Coach Andrew Craycraft, is a great believer in quality workouts followed by decent rest. He has taught me to listen to my body better. We normally have a hard workout Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday with recovery days Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

tbUSA – During your time at DePaul you have represented GB&NI at the World Juniors and Euro XC.  Has the university supported you completely during the build-up to these competitions which can often lead to excessive travel and subsequent tiredness in the weeks following?

MG – I am fortunate that the coaching staff is fully supportive of any athlete representing their country. Coach Craycraft and I planned my training accordingly for both, while also keeping in mind that I am a DePaul athlete first and foremost. The coaching staff and I both acknowledge the huge benefits that these competitions can offer not just the athlete, but the team as a whole.

tbUSA – How would you compare the standard of the NCAA to those championships?

MG – The NCAA is arguably in my opinion the most competitive athletics arena in the world. The Europeans and World Juniors had some outstanding athletes participating. However, they only participate every two years. In the NCAA you have outstanding athletes competing week in week out. Also just the depth of talent in the NCAA is huge and any athlete who competes in this envelopment will improve as long as they put in the hard work.

tbUSA- What are you studying? Are you glad you took the decision to head to the NCAA and enrol at DePaul, and do you have any reservations over the transferring of the degree back to into UK employment, if that is your plan?

MG – I am studying political science. I have absolutely no regrets about enrolling at DePaul. Leaving home at 17 and living on my own forced me to mature so much quicker than if I had decided to stay in the UK. As such my approach to my academics changed greatly. In high school I was an average student at best, but since being kicked out of my comfort zone I have become a much better student in terms of grades. Most of the “big” degrees will transfer back to the UK and from what I have found from applying for jobs is that as long as your GPA is of a good standard (3.3+) then you will be okay. I think as 3.3 equates to a 2:1.

tbUSA – You are in your senior year now, so what are your plans for next year?

MG – I am applying to a few graduate schemes and if successful I will most probably do that. However, as a backup plan I applied to Kings College London and the London School of Economics and Political Science. I was made conditional offers for both so if I don’t get a job I will probably end up at the latter of the two.

tbUSA – You have got to travel across the country, and compete against many excellent athletes both at conference and invitational meets. What would be your highlight?

MG – That’s a tough decision. With regards to places it would have to be either Atlanta, Oregon or Texas. And with regards to races it would have to be my conference meet in my sophomore year where I ran my 8:51 steeple PB.

tbUSA – Lastly, is our question to everyone. What advice would you give to a prospective student-athlete facing the decision in 2012?

  • Don’t lose focus of the fact that you are a student first and an athlete second. 99% of athletes go pro in something other than their sports (I may have just committed a copyright infringement with that last statement) so remember that the chances are you will need to get a job at some point in your life.
  • Choose somewhere that you feel comfortable with. Don’t feel pressured to attend a school simply because it’s where everyone else goes or because it has a famous name. Go where you want to go.
  • If you are given the opportunity then take it. Trust me you won’t regret it.

Watch more video of Big East Cross Country Championships 2011 on flotrack.org

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