Derbyshire Institute of Sport alumnus Ella Rush has made a bold step in moving to the US to study and train.
The current UK indoor women’s pentathlon champion is settling down to life in America at the University of Georgia where athletics training is as important as the academic work.
We caught up with Ella on a Zoom call where she was recovering from a tough training session and had just had a massage and a hot bath.
Her life has been a bit of a whirlwind in recent months as she got used to uni life but her determination to do well shines through.
One of the earliest hurdles she faced in her new home town of Athens, Georgia, was avoiding takeaway food. Ella said: “They love their fast food here in the south and it took a while to find healthier places to eat.
“I’m now dining in a lovely Mexican restaurant and having sushi too. I am on a meal plan as part of my scholarship but at weekends you tend to want to eat off campus.”
She finished last season at the world championships in Columbia in August where she came a creditable sixth in the U20 heptathlon event.
Importantly, she is continuing to smash her personal best (PB) times when competing and in training. The heptathlon is gruelling and includes 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200 metres, long jump, javelin and 800 metres whereas her pentathlons would include all these minus the javelin and 200m.
We spoke to her after her first day of technical sessions. She trained alongside three other young athletes focussing on hill sprints and blocks starting. The indoor season is on the horizon and she is relishing the chance to compete for her uni come January.
Ella, 18, said: “I’ve got my training partner and a series of coaches who really look after us all. The training is rather intense but I am getting used to it.”
While living in Derbyshire, she had a car and could rely on parents Sam and Caroline to help her out. In the US, Ella and fellow students soon discovered the joy of getting around on electric scooters.
The former Repton school student said: “I didn’t really enjoy going everywhere by bus but the scooter is great. I feel settled now I have sorted the basics like setting up my phone and a bank account.”
University life in the US is very different to Britain. The four-year courses starts with students opting for a series of subjects which, if they pass, add credits to their major study in years three and four.
Ella said: “I am studying more general subjects to start with. I’ve gone for African studies, sociology, anthropology, sports media and Odyssey.” The latter is a scheme which fosters a ‘sense of belonging’ in the classroom.
She is happy to get support when she needs it and has tutors and mentors on hand to speak to.
Ella’s daily schedule shows she does not have it easy. Academic lectures and study start at 8am and after lunch is an athletics training plan which may run for four hours. Here is her latest schedule with a recovery week built in:
Monday – hurdles technical, block work, jump technical and weights
Tuesday – high jump and technical tempo
Wednesday – jump technical, shot put and lifts
Thursday – treatments such as massage and hot and cold baths
Friday – hurdles rhythm, speed and power, plus lifting
Saturday – the coach will check if Ella is ready for more training. This could be timed runs, plus treatments.
Ella is in halls of residence with her own room and shares a kitchen, living room and bathroom with just one other female athlete. She said: “The living space is really nice. I’m lucky.” The scholarship athletes all have to stay in halls for the first two years.
She was pleased when her dad Sam visited a couple of weeks ago and they went to an American football and baseball game. He took time out to watch her train, which must have felt like old times back in Derbyshire.
Now she is aiming for the indoor season which starts in January with pentathlon events. Ella will compete for the University of Georgia in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) competitions.
Ella admits she sometimes misses her old life in Derbyshire although not the weather. It was 24C and sunny in Georgia when we spoke and a measly 13C and pouring with rain in Derby.
She said: “Back home I would be training and all wrapped up again the wind and rain. Over here I’m mostly in a crop top and shorts.”
It’s all a long way from the day she first started training with the Derbyshire Institute of Sport (DIS) in 2018. She spent the time being assisted by our world-class staff as well as specialist coaches Joe McColgan and David Feeney in Derbyshire and Loughborough. “I miss Joe and David but I’ll be back for Christmas.”
She is grateful to DIS for its support and said: “The coaches were brilliant how they brought me up to a high standard. Their focus was on strength and conditioning and the basics of fitness for my sports. I would recommend DIS to anyone wanting to succeed in sport.
“For me, I now need to build up the weights to help my strength and power. I am achieving training PBs all the time and I’m pleased with my progress. I am loving my life out here and am determined to do well.”
DIS co-founder Chloe Maudsley said: “We are so pleased to see Ella progress and it is exciting for her to experience American college life.
“She worked hard while she was with us and always smiling, and her resolve to do the best she can is commendable.”