BY JOHN WALSHE
STEPHANIE Cotter was very close to giving up athletics.
The West Muskerry athlete began to drift away from the sport during her early teenage years – but after getting back on track she’s now preparing to move to American on an athletics scholarship.
‘I lost interest in the sport big-time when I was 14 or 15 and thankfully I managed to find it again when I was 17 and going into my Leaving Cert year I decided to give it one last shot and obviously it was the best thing I ever did,’ she said.
This autumn Stephanie (19) – who hails from the townland of Direen, halfway between Coachford and Dripsey – embarks on a four-year athletics scholarship to Adams State University in Colorado.
This came about following her victory exactly 12 months ago in the senior girls’ 1500m at the Irish Life Health/Irish Schools T&F which took place in Tullamore.
Later in the year, she showed her versatility when making the Irish junior team for the European Cross-Country Championships in Slovakia and therefore it was inevitable that the offers for her to follow in the footsteps of the many Irish who have taken the scholarship route would arrive.
So when Stephanie received the email from Adams State, something told her this was the place to go.
‘Adams State was actually my first offer and I think sometimes you’re better off going with the very first, but after going over to visit the place, I really fell in love with it,’ she explains.
Last September, along with her father Michael, Stephanie travelled to Colorado to experience first-hand what the university had to offer.
‘I was really fortunate when we asked about going over, they said yes straight away. To meet the coach Damon Martin and his assistant coach David Granato and to see the facilities was of huge benefit.’
Adams State University is based in the town of Alamosa in south-central Colorado, around 220 miles from Denver. Situated at 7,544 feet, it was the site chosen for the 1968 US Olympic marathon trial to replicate the conditions that would be experienced at that year’s high altitude Mexico Olympics.
To train and compete at high altitude had a big bearing in Stephanie’s decision, as the former Coachford College student explained: ‘The altitude was obviously a huge factor for me and the idea of training at altitude for four years plus is something that very few athletes in Ireland have the means or the
funds to do.’
Coached by Colette O’Riordan at West Muskerry, Stephanie comes from an athletic family as her two younger sisters, Jennifer and Shannon, have also achieved success at underage and schools’ level. Michael ran with Leevale back in the 1990s and also spent some time on an American scholarship while their mother Sheila (Daly) ran with both the Millstreet and St Finbarr’s clubs around the same time.
Having experienced the American system himself, Michael Cotter was also very impressed with what he saw at Adams State in September.
‘I think everything you want to succeed in athletics and academically is there,’ he said.
‘First of all, it’s at altitude, running is the number one sport and then there’s the tradition, plus the facilities are out of this world.
‘I also think Adams State would like to get more involved with Irish athletics, most athletes here have traditionally gone to the East Coast at sea level and they have never really experimented at altitude.’
Stephanie is planning to study sports science and kinesiology during her time at Adams State and is eagerly looking forward to moving there in September.
‘I’m in UCC at the moment and I’ve had the experience of what it’s like to train and race here at home, but due to the fact that I train a lot on my own it’s not like I’m leaving a training group or the like.
‘The university class sizes are also small over there and you get a one-on-one with your professors which you don’t get here.
Being from a rural area, I’m used to that and I’m sure I’ll feel at home there.’
Stephanie got her track season underway recently with a 400m and 800m double at the Cork county championships.