Queenslander Sammy Whitting shares her US University experience. Sammy is 18 years old and has been apart of the QLD Nationals Triathlon team for 5 years and was the captain of the QLD team in 2017.
Women's Triathlon is the latest addition to U.S. NCAA collegiate sports. There are currently 26 NCAA universities with triathlon programs, including 6 Division 1 Universities.
My name is Sammy Whitting and I am from Brisbane Australia. In 2018 I was the first Queensland triathlon recruit to a US University. I am currently completing my Freshman year studying Medical Biology at the NCAA Div. 1 University of South Dakota.
I'm often asked, "Why did you move to America to study?" The answer is simple; when I looked into the process, I saw how beneficial the opportunity was to complete my studies full-time while still being a full-time athlete as well, something not as easily possible in Australia. Being able to live, train, study and do everything on campus has made this goal readily achievable. Finding a balance between sport, studying and life, in general, is something a lot of athletes struggle to find. Having all of this within a 1km radius of each other means I have a lot more time to study, recover, and allows me time to live a life outside of sport.
Additionally, when transitioning from Junior to an U23 athlete, the move gave me exposure to more racing, in different locations and against athletes other than my usual Australian and New Zealand competitors. Although I was the first Australian recruit, the Universities have been granting scholarships to the best Europeans, Canadians and US women for a few years prior.
It is important to know that this opportunity isn't just available to aspiring professional Junior Women. For those who want to continue the sport just for the love of it or want the experience of racing as a team, collegiate triathlon is still an option! There's a college program out there for everyone with Women's' triathlon expanding rapidly through Division 1, 2 and 3 NCAA colleges, although scholarships are available only in the first 2 Divisions.
When considering the opportunity, being the first Australian to ever be on a U.S. collegiate Triathlon team meant there was a lot of uncertainty and no one in my sport I knew that had that experience. I had to consider how I would feel about issues such as home-sickness, not knowing anyone and moving to a different country. In my initial few weeks these things did still worry me a little, but as I finally became fully immersed in the American college life, I knew I had made the right decision.
The college's primary focus is to make sure the athletes are attaining the best version of themselves both physically and academically. We get free access to personal trainers, sports dieticians, strength and conditioning coaches, and doctors. Each sport is assigned their own trainer that makes sport-specific programs. The trainers are there to help in any situation whether that be dealing with an injury, health problems or even just to massage sore muscles. When it comes to school work, if you feel you are falling behind, you can get free tutoring to help. Getting to be a part of a team and school that pushes me to achieve my best both on and off the track, or in and out of the pool, is by far one of the best things about this program.
I have found the experience extremely rewarding and would definitely encourage others to follow in my footsteps. The program is growing extremely fast with more and more Colleges adding Triathlon to their list of sports each year. I think it's a great opportunity to get more Junior female triathletes to segway from Junior to U23 racing, while also having the added benefit of attaining a degree and not having to sacrifice one for the other.
There is a rigorous process you have to follow to be eligible for most colleges. SAT tests, NCAA eligibility, sending notarized school transcripts, finding which college and most importantly the right academic course all require navigation. Since there are quite a few steps, I decided to receive help from a company where I was guided through everything that was required to get myself on a team in a school that I liked and with the best possible scholarship. This company organised recruitments to US colleges for numerous athletes across a wide range of sports, although I was a first for them as a Triathlete! They were able to negotiate with different coaches at a number of colleges, clarify any questions I had, and also check in that I was ticking all the boxes that needed to be completed.
Follow @sammy_whitting on Instagram
Image: Sammy Whitting