Athlete Feature 44 - Martyn Brewer - USA Athletics Scholarships

Athlete Feature 44 – Martyn Brewer

Martyn Brewer

This week we spoke to British athlete and former Murray State Racer; Martyn Brewer. Brewer was a two time All-American between the years of 1974-1978, and after graduating he would go on to have two very successful careers. Firstly, Brewer ran on the professional road race circuit in the US in the 1980s, and his personal bests still rank in the UK all-time top twenty for 5 miles (22.51), 10 miles (46.47) and half marathon (62.07). After hanging up the racing shoes he then worked his way up some of the major global sports brands, holding senior positions such as Head of Global Sports Marketing for Adidas, and now he is Director of International Sales for BILT.

tbUSA – Growing up as an athlete in Essex in the early 1970s, how did you catch the attention to be recruited by coaches at Murray State?

MB – I competed initially for Chelmsford AC, and had some decent successes winning county championships, and faired quite well in Inter-county events at cross-country, track and road racing. Ironically the coach at Murray State was a former Chelmsford AC athlete by the name of Bill Cornell, who had gone to the US to run for Southern Illinois in I believe the early sixties. Well his parents still lived in the Chelmsford area and sent Bill local newspaper clippings, and to cut a long story short that is how he heard about me.

One day there was a knock on the front door and it was Bill Cornell’s brother who lived locally, and he pretty much asked me if I was interested in an athletic scholarship in the US. At the time I was working in London as an apprentice brass-smith making 10 pounds a week, I would have been crazy not to have been interested.

We did not even have a phone so recruiting was done mainly by mail, and the occasional phone call to our next door but one neighbour, who would run around our house shouting “America’s calling, America’s calling” looking back now it really was quite comical.

Heck all I had heard of at the time of Kentucky was Kentucky Fried Chicken, which was a relatively new addition to the up and coming fast food trade.

 

tbUSA – What made you choose Murray State over any other potential options? From our research, it does not appear as if there were too many other British athletes there at the time. (Although Nick Rose was at nearby Western Kentucky)

MB – I had no other offers, and based on all of the information I received by mail it was just a fantastic opportunity to experience something I would never get to do, in fact I didn’t even worry about who was there or not, it was so interesting. I had no intention of staying, I had a girlfriend at home, lots of good friends, and a solid family, little did I know..

tbUSA – Looking back at past results from when you were competing in the NCAA, some major names in the sport standout: Rose, Henry Rono, John Ngeno, & Craig Virgin, to name a few. You must have some great memories racing against these athletes?  

MB – My experience in regard to running against a lot of these guys was not so fun, I was a 17 year old freshman who had hardly reached puberty, and I was racing against men, I believe Henry Rono was a 26 year old freshman, in fact we recruited another Englishman that year by the name of Brian Rutter, Brian was a 21 year old from Bristol, it literally was a boy against men. I can honestly say it was a decade later when I really grew up and matured enough to know what I needed to be doing to compete.

 

tbUSA – Away from training and racing, what are some of the memories or you still hold from your time as a student athlete at Murray State?

MB – Murray State is nestled in Western Kentucky, it’s beautiful! Four distinct seasons, people are warm and friendly! We were a novelty, people would call our room just to hear us talk, it was weird at first, and I’m not so sure I handled it well at times. But to this day I have so many fond memories, and great friendships. In the 70’s America was a well-oiled machine. I left England with major strikes, the IRA was still strong and bombings or the threat of them were not uncommon, and here I was in the countryside with pretty ladies, friendly guys, and a pace that was slightly slower than I was used to.

Pretty much all the teachers really seemed like they wanted to teach and for you to learn, I can’t say I felt that in High School in England. It was so different, it was like I had died and ended up in Heaven.

 

tbUSA – After graduating, you had a long and successful career as a professional road race athlete in the US. How did this differ to the structured collegiate set up which you had been through earlier?

MB – My road racing took a while to develop, if I were to have a criticism of the college system was we trained too hard. Every day was like a race, and we never tapered for meets (50 minute 10 milers were not uncommon), and the fact that the competitive season started with cross-country in August through November, then indoors January through March and outdoor track from April till June/July there was never any down-time. If we came back to the UK for the summer the last thing we wanted to do was train and race.

I got married to a Kentucky lady, and a divorce was the motivation to start running again. I moved to Louisville, Kentucky and trained with the likes of Dave Murphy, occasionally Nick Rose, and Dave Long, and a lot with Irishman David Rafferty who moved over a year after me from Harlow in Essex and ran for Louisville and later transferred to Murray State too.

There were some hardships, I was now without a visa, I worked construction, at a bar, at a fast food restaurant, for a while the only food I ate was giving to me by friends, especially David Rafferty. On my own I could focus better, train more effectively, and race when I felt my body was ready. I tore down easier than a lot of athletes, so I raced less, and I think that helped me the most, plus the prize money was my method of paying the bills so I had to look at it more as a business rather than just fun, although I still enjoyed it and all the people I met all over the country, but there was more pressure.

 

tbUSA – When did your competitive running days begin to wind down? Did you remain in the US after this? 

MB – My competitive career ran down in 1988. I ran the London marathon, did not adhere to my game-plan, hit the wall around 18-20 miles and walked into the hotel and watched the finish on TV in my room. I really did not have the fire to continue after that. Soon after I interviewed with NIKE as a field tech rep, and moved to Nashville, and later the next year I moved to Oregon. I stayed with NIKE, moved to The Netherlands for them in 1992, jumped ship to ADIDAS in 1994, moved to Germany, then Amsterdam, and back to Oregon in the US in 2001.

I still live in Oregon, and I’m a sales rep for the Andre Agassi fitness business BILT.

 

tbUSA – Almost all of the athletes we have spoken to have gone on to enjoy careers either within or away from the sport after graduating. Can you give the readers an insight into how you made this transition into working life?

MB – The transition from running to work was an easy one for me as I went into the sporting goods industry, and I truly believe the dedication and hard work I did as an athlete went into my work environment, and I worked my way up from tech rep at NIKE to Head of Global Sports Marketing at adidas in less than a decade. I loved the business of sport, and the fit all-round was perfect.

 

tbUSA- Whilst researching this feature, we discover that you have given various talks to college students, covering topics such as success in the global economy, and how to maximize time at college to prepare for professional lives. It should then be easy to ask what advice would you have for athletes who are currently considering the US collegiate system?

MB – The US system is not for everybody! If you are on the radar in the UK, and are getting support that allows you the time, facilities, solid nutrition and support stay home. However if you are on the fringe, and want to try something completely different go for it, if it does not work you can always go home.

In life you have to believe, you have to strive, you have to enjoy what you do, and how you do it. I think too many people today sit around waiting for things to come to them, I hate to tell you this, but they will be waiting for an awful long time. FAITH is key, IF you believe you can do something, and are willing to do the work you will be surprised what you can achieve..

In college have fun, but grow, grow educationally, grow in maturity, be considerate of others, but don’t compromise yourself, be confident, always smile/laugh they are both great healers internally and externally, be as diverse as you can and don’t pigeon hole yourself into a corner unless you know that is really what you want.

I do and did miss watching my family grow, I missed my brothers growing up, I missed my parents, cousins, aunts and uncles growing old, I miss watching the Hammers, I miss certain foods, I miss lots about England, and am still English inside. BUT I also have a new life, I have a great 16 year old son who can run like the wind but his main sport is soccer. I have a lovely wife, and nice home, friends around the world.

The jump is not for everyone, it still baffles me how at 17 I jumped on a plane knowing no one (had never even flown before) and started a totally new life, there were struggles, there have been successes and fun too, but then isn’t that life is about?

 

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