They told me I would stop doing athletics in the USA. I came back with a double bachelor's degree and in the best shape.

Irena Gillarová

Before departing for the USA, I was discouraged from the athletic environment with the words that I would end up with athletics in America. But I returned from Virginia Tech University with two bachelor's degrees straight into the training group of Jan Železný, which was always my dream. Last summer, I even flew to the Olympics.

I would like other Czech athletes to have the same opportunity. That's why I started my own agency Sportegy Futures, where athletes and especially graduates from other foreign universities, who maintain contact with American trainers, have come together.

My experience with the university was great and I believe it is a good choice for a young athlete. Of course, he knows that it is not for everyone, but three and a half years at the university were the best that athletics gave me.

From a sporting perspective, my university years taught me a great discipline and I also discovered what professional level actually means. In the Czech Republic, I had very good conditions, but the material equipment was at a much higher level at Virginia Tech. The same can be said of the university coaching team.

We had assistants available in the training center all day to prepare refreshments, ice and were ready to intervene if anything happened to anyone. It's maybe a small detail, but from my point of view, it highlights the professional approach.

The system at American universities is set up so that school follows training for athletes. To always be able to keep up with school and athletic obligations. This taught me to follow order because keeping up with college studies and athletic obligations is no joke. You can relax on the weekend, but you don't have much free time during the week.

Personally, I didn't have anyone to talk to about the university choice. I just met an American coach at the competition who wanted me in the university team, so he guided me to pass the admission process. But I did all the preparation for the exams myself. If I had someone to advise me back then, I might have ended up at a different school.

With hindsight, I am grateful that I ended up at Virginia Tech University. But I remember that the West Coast and slightly warmer weather also attracted me, but it ended up as it was supposed to.

I acknowledge that I was lucky with my coach, it could have happened that the training collaboration would not have been good. My work will be to make sure young athletes do not risk and know what to expect in terms of training at the selected university.

Regarding my studies, I have studied international relationships and cultures, and religion. The second major came from elective courses. I actually did not know beforehand that I could receive a second degree, so I was lacking a strategy in choosing elective subjects in my first year. Maybe I would have made a different choice then. Now I want to make sure that other young Czech athletes make the most of the American opportunity.

I am very happy that more and more promising Czech athletes are interested in the American university journey in recent years. Young people are much more aware of the value and the opportunity to get an education abroad.

I somewhat understand the point of view of local coaches that elite athletes are leaving. However, I do not like the argument that no one improves in the USA and ends up quitting sports. That is not true, young athletes can quit anywhere in the world at the age of around twenty if they don't get along with their coach or lose motivation.

The conditions and competition at American universities can also push Czech sports forward, not just athletics. Recently, hurdler Michal Husek got to Harvard and sprinter Eva Kubíčková to the University of Oklahoma.

I have dealt with both of them with more offers. The main decision, besides academic levels and scholarships, was made based on coaches with a personal approach. Of course, the feeling of the athletes is also important, if they get along with the coaches personally, it has a lot of weight. I use the fact that I know the individual coaches and know how they work.