Runner's Web
Lynne Bermel
Lynne Bermel's Column

Contact Lynne via email @ lbermel@runnersweb.com

Interview with Anastasia on Running Scholarships

My special friend, Bruce Walker, reminded me that in my previous column, "Life as a Pro," I hadnít mentioned the single most important aspect about being a professional athlete: That the very title provides an opportunity to make a difference in other peopleís lives.

Bruce was a professional football player who spent six successful years in the CFL with the Ottawa Rough Riders. He told me that being a pro player gave him the platform to influence others in a positive way Ė from signing autographs to speaking to a group of impressionable young athletes to donating time to community events. To this day, Bruce continues the volunteer work he started as a pro. I know of many other professional athletes who share Bruceís philosophy yet there are few who give as much back.


Our latest column is an interview with Ottawa runner Anastasia (Stacey) Chyz. Over the past year, she has experienced a renewed love for running that was all but shelved following a "run" at a US Running Scholarship. In this interview, she shares with us some interesting insight into the whole scholarship process and talks candidly about her own experience.

Runnerís Web: What university did you attend? When?

Stacey: I went to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia from 1992-1996.

Runnerís Web: Did they have a strong team?

Stacey: Our team wasn't overly strong, but during my freshman year, we had a decent group. My school was part of the largest region in the US (70 schools in all). We had some of the top NCAA Division I X-Country schools such as Wake Forest, North Carolina State and Duke University competing for a birth in the NCAA Championships. In track, we raced in some fairly major events, such as the Colonial Relays, the Raleigh Relays (at NC State), the Duke Invitational and other meets.

Runnerís Web: How did your scholarship offer come about?

Stacey: I ran track in high school and was also part of a track and field club in the city. My coach was always really keen on helping us go to school on a US Scholarship. A friend of his was familiar with the system and he would talk to us about it quite often. Basically, I just picked out a bunch of Division I schools in the Southern States (I wanted the sun and to get away from the snow). I sent out letters and a sort of "running resume."

All told, Iíd say I wrote to about 90 schools or so. I heard back from about half to three-quarters of them. It was really exciting. I had only been running for a short time then, as I didnít start running until I was 17. I guess they felt my times were pretty reasonable considering that. Any good coach will think they can make you into a star. I also had experience competing at Junior Nationals in Track and Cross-Country.

Stacey Chyz in the Run for the Cure 5K
Stacey Chyz, Run for the Cure 5K

Runnerís Web: What was it like running under a US Scholarship? (There are stories out there about athletes being "run into the ground" or forced to go on an extreme diet by an overzealous coach. Were your experiences similar?)

Stacey: Yes, there are a lot of horror stories, and I guess you could say I have one of my ownÖonly I wasnít "run into the ground." It was more like the opposite.

The coach that recruited me left after my first x-country season to take on a new position at another school. We got an interim coach for track, then another for the next x-country season. I then red-shirted the track season in 1993 (meaning I didn't run in order to save my eligibility). For my Junior (third) year, a new coach was hired. She was runner herself, having been nationally ranked in the marathon. I didnít really like her coaching style. I found it was too easy. I felt as though we werenít doing enough mileage nor including enough high intensity in our workouts. I got the impression that she was more focused on her career than us and so I don't think she gave the job the time it deserved.

I was never forced to go on a strict nutritional program, although the first coach I had put a lot of indirect pressure on us to make sure we didn't put on weight. In the end, I don't think I ever performed to my potential because of the lack of consistency in coaching. It led to my disinterest in competitive racing after awhile.

Runnerís Web: Would you recommend the scholarship route to those that are in a position to consider that option for university?

Stacey: The scholarship program does offer the opportunity to compete in a very high calibre environment past high school. It's a great experience that can also lead to success later on. Getting an education and not having student loans is also a definite benefit, as is living in a different country, climate, and even culture for that matter. (In certain ways, Canadians are very different from Americans!).

Itís hard to say what the downsides are to an athletic scholarship, despite the somewhat negative experience I had. I guess I would say that you never really know ahead of time what you're getting into. There can be a downside, especially if you end up somewhere where you're forced to starve yourself or constantly over-train. And Iíve heard of that quite often.

It's also difficult at times to balance school and competing. It can be very exhausting when you're trying to prioritize two things and do well in both. Also, because you're on scholarship, people will sometimes think you have it easy (i.e. no student loans, not having to work part-time), but it is very demanding competing on the collegiate level. Your sport is essentially a job. You're paid to do it and practice and competition are not a choice: Theyíre mandatory.

I would definitely recommend that most athletes consider the scholarship route, especially young women. Schools that are part of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) are bound by gender equity rules (known as Title IX) to provide equal funding and opportunity. As a result, there are a lot of opportunities available in terms of scholarship money in cross-country and track at Division I, II, and III schools. In distance running, it has been the case that participation by young women drops off at around age 16 or 17 (let's face it - it's not really a glamorous sport). So, if you're a runner, or any athlete for that matter, stick with it, as there may be an opportunity in the future.

If you're really good, I'd say go for a top- notch program offered by known schools such as Villanova, Wisconsin, Stanford and others but be aware that you'll have to work very hard and the training will be demanding. For most people, I think it's wise to go somewhere that has the academic program you want, a campus you like, and is somewhere that you can see yourself living for four years. In the end, you should follow your gut instinct and don't let anyone else decide what feels right for you. Iíd also caution that coaches can make a lot of promises that don't necessarily come to fruition, so if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Runnerís Web: What were your best results in university?

Stacey:

- 1500m: 4:49

- 3000m: 10:20

- 5000m: 18:20

- 10,000m: 38:40

- 5km cross-country: 18:49

Runnerís Web: Apparently since youíve moved to Ottawa, youíre running better than ever. How do you explain it?

Stacey: I feel as though I'm in better shape than I was for most of my university career. I think that after coming to Ottawa for graduate school and then not running at all for almost two years, I finally got motivated enough to run again. Joining the OAC Racing Team at then end of May 1999 was one of the best things I've done since moving here. I was consistent with workouts over the summer, despite being way behind everyone at first, and then came within 3 seconds of my track 5000m PB in a 5km-road race this fall.

I think I'm more focused now in that I know what I want to do with my running. I also think I have more confidence in myself and I finally believe that I can run faster. And, I have to say that the OAC coach, Ken Parker, has helped me a lot. I agree with his coaching philosophy and he has given me the opportunity to train with some superb athletes despite how slow I was when I first contacted him. He was always very encouraging, which is good, because there were a few workouts over the summer where I felt like packing it in. He never said a negative word and was always very encouraging. I think that is one of the most fundamental things a coach can do to help athletes

improve.

 

Runnerís Web: What are your goals for the upcoming season?

Stacey: I don't want to put anything in writing, because I'm afraid it will come back to haunt me. I'd like to improve my 5km and 10km times on the road and run in some competitive races such as the Nordion 10km and possibly the Avon Race in Toronto or Montreal. I wouldn't mind doing some outdoor track in the summer. Iíve always really liked track. Road racing is fun too, but I'm not really that fond of cross-country.

I also want to be consistent, and become mentally and physically tougher. I think that is one of my weakest areas. When it comes time for flight or fight, I've too often chosen not to fight.

Runnerís Web: What do you like best about running?

Stacey: The sense of accomplishment you get after a great workout or a race. With running, if you put in the work, you will see the results. Plus, it's a great way to keep in shape!

Contact Lynne via email @ lbermel@runnersweb.com

For more on Lynne's background read this interview with Wayne Scanlan which appeared originally in the Ottawa Citizen.

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