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Far From My Home in The Netherlands, I’ve Found a New Appreciation For The Sport I love Most

Written by Owen Hightower

When I decided to move from my home country the Netherlands to the United States for college less than one year ago, I didn’t realize the sport I love most and would continue playing here in the States was structured completely differently than in my country.

Since I arrived at Millsaps and joined the cross country team, I’ve realized these differences have made me love the sport even more. Most everything
about cross country in America is different than cross country in the Netherlands, including practice, meets, race distances, team atmosphere and trips to other schools.

But the biggest difference is that cross country and other sports in America are tied to the schools you attend.

In the Netherlands, I was a member of a soccer and a running club, but those clubs had no affiliation with school. For that reason, focusing on academics was often difficult. For instance, in the Netherlands I’d get out of class around 3 p.m. and my running club practice would start at 4:30 p.m. With practice being far from my school, I’d feel stressed while traveling and wouldn’t have time to focus on homework.

Here at Millsaps, because cross country is affiliated with school, it’s easier to focus on academics. In fact, Millsaps has a mandatory study hall for freshmen on Mondays and Wednesdays so everyone has a chance to get their homework done. Then when it is time to practice, our facilities are right here on campus.

Owen Hightower and Track/Cross Country Coach, Andy Till.

There are also a lot of differences in the way I practice now and how I used to practice in the Netherlands. Here, we practice more frequently. At Millsaps, we practice five to six times a week and we have eight races in the season; in the Netherlands, I’d practice only twice a week and we’d have just four races per season.

The atmosphere among the team here at Millsaps is very different than back home. At my club in the Netherlands, you were more of an individual athlete than a team athlete. I wouldn’t have any close friends
at my club, but here we are a real team and we share a true sense of camaraderie.

The Netherlands isn’t a big country, so the longest we’d have to travel for meets would be about 90 minutes. Here in America, we’re already traveled up to six hours for a meet. And, of course, the hot summers in Mississippi forcing us to practice early in the morning is nothing like the moderate temperatures in the Netherlands.

But besides the travel time and the weather, most everything about running cross country in America is more enjoyable to me than in the Netherlands. Everything about that experience, of course, is helped by my teammates and coaches, who strike a good balance between competition and fun.