BASILDON AC’s talented middle-distance runner Kaylee Dodd has accepted an offer of a scholarship at one of America’s most successful sports universities.
The 18-year-old wrestled with the decision of whether or not to take her place at Oklahoma State University for months before deciding it was an opportunity just too good to turn down.
“I just thought that if I didn’t agree to go I would regret it for the rest of my life,” said Dodd who is currently studying at Seevic College.
“I didn’t want to be sitting down a year from now wondering what might have been, because I won’t get the chance again.”
As one of the leading 800m runners in the country for her age group over the past five years, it was no surprise that Dodd was courted by the leading American universities.
And Oklahoma State certainly is one of the big names when it comes to athletics.
This current year, after the cross-country and indoor seasons, the college is ranked number two in the whole of America with the summer track season still to come.
So on sporting merits alone, the decision would appear to be a no-brainer for the two-time English Schools 800m champion.
But the thought of moving 4,500 miles to America, away from her close-knit family, friends and boyfriend made the decision an incredibly difficult and emotional one.
“When I first started receiving offers from colleges I didn’t even reply because I didn’t want to go,” said Dodd who lives in Wickford with mum and dad, Trevor and Chris, and has two sisters, Charlotte and Ella.
“Then about a year later, OSU called and I thought it was worth considering as an option.
“The coach Dave Smith came out to see me at the English Schools Championships last summer and talked about what I could expect.
“I started thinking about it more and sat my SATs, which you need to study in America, in November but I hadn’t heard from them since the summer.
“Then, out of the blue, in January I got a call asking if I would like to go out and visit and two weeks later I was out there.”
Dodd says she was probably 50/50 at best “although more like 60/40 against” accepting the offer before visiting Oklahoma. After a few days on campus that had changed right around.
“It was amazing,” she said. “The facilities were fantastic. Everything was brand new, the track was brand new and if anything wasn’t brand new they were rebuilding it! It was unreal.”
If the facilities were unreal, the decision Dodd had to make suddenly became very real.
Her mum, Chris, gave her a deadline of the end of March to make up her mind and the toughest decision of her life loomed.
“It was such a hard decision,” she said. “If it was just on the facilities on their own and how it could help me as an athlete it would have been easy. But I had my family to consider and my boyfriend, and all my friends.
“My mum and dad didn’t really say much but I did overhear some of their conversations so I had some idea what they were thinking.
“When I told them my mum nearly started crying and my dad said ‘if you hadn’t have said yes I would have questioned why’.
“They were both runners themselves and if they had the opportunity I have been offered I’m sure they would have taken it.”
Dodd’s boyfriend, Harry Branch, may not be a runner but he knows all about high level sport as the current scrum half for Southend Rugby Club.
“He understands it from a sporting perspective, it’s how long I’m going away for which is the hard part,” she added.
“But it’s not like I can’t come home. I’ll be back for Christmas and three months in the summer.”
Having made up her mind, Dodd is now excited by the possibilities that lie ahead.
“This could really be the start for me. It might not work out and I might want to come home after a year, but it could also be the start of something.”
In the mean-time, Dodd intends to arrive in Oklahoma in August in better condition than ever.
She has been working hard with new coach Ellie Meadows – another who she admits she will find it hard to leave behind – this winter and is in good shape for the track season ahead.
“Last year my track season was not great because I suffered a bit with nerves so I’m not going to put too many targets on myself. The aim is to run fast and see what happens.”