trackboundUSA > Athlete Feature 27 - Hannah England

Athlete Feature 27 – Hannah England

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Hannah England – Florida State

This week we spoke to the 2011 World Championship 1500m Silver medallist and former Florida State Seminole, Hannah England. The Oxford AC athlete’s stay in the collegiate system was a brief but hugely successful one. In 2008 she won individual NCAA titles over both the mile (indoors) and 1500m (outdoors). England has since returned to the UK to train as a professional athlete, where she is currently preparing for the 2012 Olympics under Coach Bud Baldaro and is attempting to go one better than in Daegu at this year’s London Olympics.

tbUSA: Midway through an undergraduate degree at The University of Birmingham, what made you decide to go to the US?

HE:  My biochemistry degree at Birmingham had the option of taking a year in industry, I had looked at going to University in America straight from sixth form and decided to satisfy that urge by taking my year out there instead. I organised to take a year in research at FSU rather than a year in a local industry in the Midlands. I had always admired the high quality of the NCAA system and really wanted to have a go racing there. I chose FSU because it had a really good history with international students, I was the fourth University of Birmingham student to go there and it was reassuring that they could guide me through the academic and athletic eligibility red tape. I was also set on FSU because my boyfriend, Luke, was there and I was sick of hearing how amazing it was!

tbUSA: Were the credits you gained at Florida State counted towards your Birmingham degree or did they lead to a separate qualification?

HE:  I took a full quota of biochemistry classes at FSU to secure my eligibility to compete for the cross country and track teams, these didn’t formally count toward my Birmingham degree, but intellectually I learnt a lots of extra biochemistry that I wouldn’t have been exposed to had I stayed in the UK. Birmingham didn’t really have any expectation for my year but on top of my classes I took a DIS (Directed Independent Studies) where I worked with a PhD student in the Biochemistry department helping him with his research project. This was great for my lab skills and the project I worked on got published. I wrote up the work we did when I got back to the UK and Birmingham were impressed with it and I ended up with a “Bachelors with a year in research” at the end of my degree.

tbUSA: Did you have to fulfil any admissions requirements to be accepted into Florida State or was it just a case of a year abroad incorporated into your Birmingham degree?

HE: My admission requirements were probably a bit simpler than most people heading over to the states as I was a transfer student. I didn’t need an SAT score as I was already in University level education and I didn’t need a GRE score as I wasn’t going on to a masters course. The Biochemistry department took a look at the modules I was taking in Birmingham and I had a chat with the head of department on my recruitment trip and they decided I had covered enough material to be admitted and to take 3rd year biochem modules. I had to take basic Maths, English and Science exams when I arrived to prove competency.

tbUSA: Was it always planned that you would spend a year abroad, or did this just arise when you got the chance to go to Florida State?

HE: I had always planned to at least take a year out in the middle of my course and had hoped that I could make a year in the states work. In sixth form I had also looked at going to Bath University, their Biochemistry degree involves a year at an American university rather than local industry in Birmingham. I was hoping I would be able to persuade Birmingham to let me go to the states.

tbUSA: As one of the leading juniors around the time you were starting university, did you think about going to the US for a full undergraduate degree?

HE: I did think quite seriously about going straight to the states. I lived in California for a year when I was 9 and loved every second of it. My dad has a good friend at Stanford University who put me in contact with the track and field team, but it proved really hard to get much information out of them and it sounded like they would not be able to pay my tuition fees so it was a bit of a non starter as international tuition fees are astronomical! I was also travelling up to Birmingham University to train with Bud and the group there 2-3 times a month and knew it would work for me to be there full time.

It’s a big change leaving home at 18, let alone going to abroad, so decided it’d probably be easier to go to Birmingham, both athletically and emotionally.

tbUSA: Did you do much independent research about where you were going before heading out to the US? Was there anywhere else that you seriously considered going?

HE: When it came to taking my gap year in the states I did look at Stanford and Oregon University, they both have tremendous athletic history and Stanford has a brilliant science history. But to be honest within a few email correspondences with them it just seemed very complicated to get them to understand my situation whereas FSU worked really hard to accommodate me and understand what I wanted. I was always going to be biased towards FSU as Luke was there, but FSU didn’t take that for granted and worked very hard to get me there.

tbUSA: You have been to University in the UK and the US, what similarities or differences did you find between the two systems? This doesn’t have to be just related to running and can cover anything.

HE: The US system is defiantly tailored to allow better sporting performances, the academic and athletic administrations work together to help you get the most out of your studies and training/races. Lecturers were more than happy to be flexible on exams and deadlines to complement competitions. We weren’t allowed to skip anything, but it just made life a lot less stressful being able to take an exam a few days early or hand in homework online or a few days late.

On the other hand in England the academics can often be totally rigid, it’s pretty much impossible to reschedule an exam or deadline. I’m sure every student athlete has had their early summer races dictated by their exam schedule, particularly when exams get put on a Saturday!

The scholarship programs in the US also provide superior facilities than most university in the UK. It’s not just the full time coaches, amazing gyms and tracks, it’s also the travel budget and kit supplied. I think being on a scholarship in the states is closest you can get to being a sponsored athlete at that age and ability.

tbUSA: Although your time in the US was short, you certainly made a big impact by winning two NCAA titles. To what extent do you feel that these achievements helped springboard your career as an athlete?

HE: I think my year at FSU bought me on a tremendous amount. Logic says that I would have been capable of running the times I did had a stayed in England, maybe not that year, but that I would have got there eventually. But timing can be such a massive factor in the success or failure of careers. I learnt a lot about my training and racing abilities in this year, I was only beaten by one collegiate -my team mate Susan Kuijken – indoors and outdoors in 2008, which was a massive confidence boost at 21. Winning the NCAAs in an Olympic A standard in an Olympic year made me believe I could be a senior international athlete. It also helped me secure sponsorship from Nike, which has enabled me to be a full time “professional” athlete straight out of university. Had I not gone to FSU it would have perhaps taken me another 12-24 months to run “A-standards” and in the meantime I would have finished university and would have had to stay in education or find a job to support myself, which I think would have further slowed my progress.

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

HE: 10/10. I had a totally amazing time. I was very lucky to hit the ground running and have a perfect year athletically, but I really loved the whole experience of living abroad as well. My most memorable highlight would have to be winning NCAA outdoors, there was a lot of hype surrounding the race because it was “stacked” as the yanks like to say, it was the perfect end to a great year. But I’ve got a whole host of wonderful memories of “living the dream” in the sunshine

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

HE: I would pretty much tell anyone to go! The chance to live in another country pretty much expense free is amazing.

I know it won’t suit everyone perfectly but in my experience the people who throw themselves into the team environment and embrace the opportunities have no regrets.

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