Few schools have been as popular as Iona for British and Irish athletes in recent history. We caught up with Liam Dee, who is entering his third year in the NCAA. Since arriving stateside, Liam has run 4.00.43 in the mile and 3:42 for the 1500m.
Iona has a history of recruiting international athletes, including many from England, did this affect your decision to commit to Iona?
Of course, this was a big influence on my decision. Thanks to those who have come before me, the coaches at Iona know how the UK system works, so they know what British athletes tend to be like with regard to training and racing, as well as their values and culture. This helped with the decision and meant the transition went very smoothly for me and I settled in quickly.
It’s a lot of fun having people from a number of different backgrounds all training and living together and becoming great friends. I think everyone brings their own training philosophies to the table as well as their own personality and it keeps everyone open-minded. We learn from eachother.
I feel many programmes that recruit foreign athletes receive a lot of criticism (especially in the doldrums of LetsRun and other forums), but I think it can only be a good thing to have non-US athletes competing in the collegiate system. Recruiting from around the world brings in some of the best athletes outside of the USA and heightens competition to really bring out the best in everyone. It’s a strangely enjoyable (and quite funny) feeling to perform well as a foreign athlete in the NCAA against the criticism we have heard.
How does the state of New York compare to England?
New York, to some extent at least, is actually not vastly different. Geographically it’s also quite similar as you can drive 20 minutes north of New Rochelle and be in open countryside; or drive 20 minutes south and be in one of the biggest cities in the world. This is similar to where I live in the UK in Hertfordshire. Weather-wise however, New York is quite extreme compared to the UK. The winters get very cold and snowy, but very consistently upwards of 30°C in the summer. However, I do quite like the changing of the seasons, it makes you appreciate the nice weather when you’ve had to gut it out in the snow and cold! It does rain less too, something which British and Irish athletes won’t be so used to!
What has been the biggest culture shock for you?
Food. For better and for worse this is the case. As athletes we have to be wary of what we eat and even more so in the USA. It’s very easy to go and buy cheap fast-food and such, so you have to keep a check on everything you eat. As much as I love getting late-night dollar slices of pizza, I do limit myself when I’m in season! Also, I’ve been told that beans on toast is “weird and tragic” (which reflects most Americans’ view), as well as a lacklustre selection of biscuits for tea and poor access to some other British classic foodstuffs.
Apart from the cuisine, there are always the little differences. Obviously there are certain words that I might use at home which aren’t used in the US and vice-versa; saying your ‘knackered/shattered’ will earn you some funny looks, as will greeting someone with ‘alright’ or calling them mate. Oh and a bit of advice to people looking at the US: get learning the Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion!
What do you want to accomplish while out in the USA?
As much as I possibly can. Honestly it’s hard to say other than that. The strength of competition pushes me to learn so much every time I step onto the line, so I guess the possibilities are quite open-ended. But to add some kind of objective answer to this, I think a realistic goal is to be competitive on the national level of the NCAA over the next few years over all three seasons (Cross country, Indoors and Outdoors).
How are you finding the academic side to the U.S?
I’m enjoying my degree which is of course a positive. The system works a little differently to the UK as students do not have to declare your course before you go to University. You can theoretically not declare until the end of your Sophomore (second) year, this adds a little bit of a ‘failsafe’ should your original plan not work out the way you want to. The structure of the course is good as it allows me to study my course-specific classes alongside a range of subjects outside of my degree as elective classes. I love learning about loads of things so this is really interesting. Iona is a small college too, meaning the classes have fewer students (probably 20 or less on average) so that I get to know all of my professors and can speak to them with any issues I personally might have about any work.
With the indoor season not being a priority in the English season, how are you adapting to racing indoors?
I love it, I think it suits me because I’m shorter than a lot of runners. It’s always good to have a strong indoor season off of mainly strength-based training as it’s a nice indication of what can be done outdoors with more event-specific and speed training. I love the relay aspect of indoors too, I think including distance relay events in the schedule is something that should be adopted outside of the NCAA more often. Also it’s a bonus not to have to be racing outside when the snow of the North-east is up to your knees and you have to take precaution to avoid minor cases of frost-bite!
Often Iona will have some of the distance guys race the sprint events, such as the 60m, what is the reason behind this?
This is purely to fulfil certain NCAA requirements for team competition. I believe teams have to compete across a number of events in a season to be compliant with the rules of the governing body. I’m not entirely sure of the technicalities, but we don’t want to step on the toes of the NCAA’s bureaucrats and rule-makers now do we!
What has been your favourite place to compete?
This is a difficult one. Franklin Field, the venue for Penn Relays is incredible, running in such an iconic venue is so special and the atmosphere is completely mental. I’ve not had much more adrenaline than when I raced there earlier this year (2016). That’s probably my top Outdoor venue.
We’re lucky in New York that we have the Armory Indoor track so close and get to train there during the indoor season. Racing there is special too, indoors is a lot of fun and the noise at the Armory is huge. There’s also a great kebab/gyro van that’s always outside on Ft. Washington Ave…
Do you have any advice for incoming freshmen?
Whilst being recruited to programmes:
As a freshman/first-year: