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University of Birmingham x Ivy League Exchange 2024

Updated: May 21

An earthquake, solar eclipse and the experience of a lifetime!


Just after Easter, for the first time in 8 years (due to Covid disruptions), a squad of 60 selected athletes (with 5 coaches) set out on a two week student exchange to 4 Ivy League Universities from Harvard, Yale, Penn and Cornell, following in the footsteps of generations of Birmingham student-athletes before them.


Our first stop was to NYC, where we were greeted by a storm and hundreds of abandoned umbrellas in Manhattan but that didn’t deter some athletes who wanted an immediate run in Central Park!


After a busy day in New York City, our first appointment was a small Alumni gathering where some senior athletes and coaches shared their story and networked with the attendees – a rewarding experience where both parties were impressed by each others‘ achievements and a number of LinkedIn connections were made.


Whilst the majority of the travelling group transferred to our first host University, an earthquake of magnitude 4.8 was experienced across the region! After arrival in their smart UoB blazers, the athletes were paired up with their student hosts for the 3 night visit to the University of Pennsylvania.


The teams first competition in the famous 70,000 seater Franklin Fields stadium (home of the largest relays meet in the world) found the athletes tired from both the transatlantic journey and New York exploration however there were 3 individual wins taken:


  • Josh Woods, Long Jump; 7.41w, 7.27m (PB)

  • James Pratt, Javelin, 64.74m


  • (PB)

  • Jasmine Wilkins, 100m, 11.78 (PB)


After a rest day the squad travelled north to Ithaca, chasing the eclipse all the way and just glimpsing it through the significant cloud cover. The 3 days at Cornell University allowed the squad to complete their recovery from travelling whilst benefitting from the excellent indoor and outdoor training facilities available on this large campus. After training with their US counterparts, the team explored the campus in the sunshine, swam in the local pools and finished their days eating in a dining hall voted one of the top in the US!



Upon arrival at our next stop in Harvard, the athletes were again hosted by their counterparts. On the only full day in Boston, some training was completed followed by a campus tour and optional sightseeing before visiting the famous Fenway Park for an evening at the Red Sox baseball game – US culture in one of its truest forms!


Saturday saw a last transition to Yale in New Haven but not before our second competitive outing at the University of Connecticut Northeast Challenge. Although the day was cool there were two outstanding performances – in the Women’s 4x100m relay where the quartet of Molly Swingler, Jasmine Wilkins, Zoe Austridge and Maddie Whapples came away with a New University Club Record of 47.13s and, individually, Jasmine Wilkins ran 11.60s over 100m, a significant legal PB and a breakthrough performance which sets her up well for consideration for the World U20 Championships in Peru later this summer.



After a long day, our arrival at Yale University began a relaxed four days in New Haven where recovery, training and sightseeing were the priorities. This included a campus tour by “Coach Shoe” (David, Shoehalter; a great advocate for the exchange) along with a Cherry Blossom Festival, beach visit and  even lunch courtesy of Jonathan Edwards (not the WR triple jumper but the Yale college who shares his name!).


The hospitality provided by both the student athletes and the host coaching teams could not be faulted and, in their words, was a reflection of what they’d received when visiting Birmingham last June. In fact, one of the significant benefits of the proximity of these two exchange visits was the high proportion of reciprocal student hosts on this visit back to the US – a number had kept in touch and they had organised activities for their visitors in the same way as Birmingham athletes had done.


It was impressive to see the engagement made by the Birmingham team with both US athletes and coaches – they were true ambassadors for UoB, demonstrated throughout by their passion for the experience and support for each other.


A report on such and enjoyable and meaningful exchange wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the huge organisational task undertaken and successfully completed by the Club President Josh Woods and his supporting committee members.


This exchange has been taking place since the 1960’s and, based upon the enthusiasm from all parties it’s so easy to see this continuing through to the 2060’s and beyond.

 

Words from Mike Bull,

Ivy League Tour Lead & University of Birmingham Throws Coach


'A two week experience I will never ever forget!'


There is typically a ‘Party in the USA’ according to Miley Cyrus, which is exactly what it felt like as 60 BUAC athletes excitedly boarded the British Airways flight for the Ivy League tour, 2024! The tour was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a group of BUAC students to travel across the pond and experience life as an Ivy League student athlete for 2 weeks. Travelling up and around the East Coast, students across the years got to see sights of prestigious universities and their sporting campuses, meeting their athletes, and experiencing their dining hall foods!

 

In 2023, BUAC had the honour of hosting all 4 Ivy League compatriot universities at once in Birmingham. BUAC students hosted Harvard and Yale first, across houses in Selly and in accommodations in the Vale; before then hosting Penn and Cornell in the latter part of the week. We also put together a Big 5 competition between ourselves and the 4 Ivy League universities, then throwing a banquet together for Penn and Cornell. It was a wonderful week of seeing astonishing athletes at the peak of the Ivy League track programmes be authentic and delightfully easy to get along with. As a result, excitement was at an all-time high for our turn to visit our American compatriots.

 

First and foremost, a brief overview of the 2-week travels! The trip began with a small 2 day stop in the ‘concrete jungle where dreams are made of’, New York City. New York was an incredible opportunity to see the famous sights; like Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Met and Grand Central station to name but a few. There were opportunities for training out in New York too, with group runs occurring throughout Central Park for all training groups; sprints, endurance, jumps and throws! There were unbridled chances for you to explore NYC with your friends and make a tour a safe and enjoyable holiday as a young adult! One of my personal highlights from New York was seeing Grand Central station at night! The architecture inside the station was breath-taking and really stuck in my memory.

 



From New York, we then travelled to Philadelphia to visit the University of Pennsylvania. We experienced a tour of the legendary Franklin Fields, home to the world-famous Penn Relay Championships, as well as a tour of the UPenn campus. We then had the privilege to then train and compete on Franklin Fields, during the Penn Invitational competition where BUAC faced off against prestigious East Cost track universities like Penn, Cornell, Villanova, and Monmouth. It was an unbelievable chance to witness some great American talent and the depth of the talent within American teams, especially as we were the only British team there competing.

As a collective, we had the ability to really bond with UPenn. We stayed within their living areas, whether it be in their dorms or in their houses to really get to know each other. They also treated us to a banquet post-competition, and a post-competition night out to really unite the two universities together. I loved spending time with UPenn, especially with my host! He was great at looking after me and making me feel welcome into his home, and I know this was commonly felt across the group!

 

After UPenn, we travelled upwards to Cornell University. Cornell was situated in upstate New York, in a quiet residential town called Ithaca. The serenity of Cornell directly contrasted the bustle of Philadelphia, which provided much-needed rest from the active schedule in the previous few days. The campus was fantastically built, with incredible gothic architecture that gave a Harry Potter, Oxbridge-esque vibe to the campus. Some key highlights from Cornell were training in some breath-taking indoor and outdoor facilities, cliff jumping at Six Mile Creek, bonfires and bonding with the Cornell track and field team and their incredible dining hall foods! Morrison Dining is an absolute must-try for if you go on the trip, there was not a hungry stomach on the team in sight after eating in Morrison! During our stay in Cornell, we also managed to catch a glimpse of a solar eclipse, which made the Cornell part of our trip even more special!

 



From Cornell, we then moved to Harvard University. Harvard was the shortest leg of our journey, but that did take away from how good of a leg it was. We were able to go and see the Boston Red Sox’s play the LA Angels at Fenway Park, which was cool to experience. The people within Harvard’s track team were also a joy to be around, so friendly and easy-to-talk to, just as authentic as they were when they came to the UK in 2023!

 

Our final stop on the tour was Yale University, but before we quickly visited the University of Connecticut for the UCONN Northeast Challenge. We got to face off against more prestigious Ivy League universities, like Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown and UCONN to name a few. It was another good opportunity to compete against some top-level Ivy League universities who were also looking to set quick times. The diversity of support from BUAC across both meets demonstrated the incredible team spirit we have at the club. People from across all the groups on the tour came together to cheer on one another in a spirit that only BUAC could have, and something we wholly pride ourselves on!




 

After the competition, it was onto 4 days in New Haven with Yale University. Yale was special for its wholly welcoming nature to us, going above and beyond to ensure that we were catered for. We received another wonderfully interesting campus tour, seeing a beautifully built campus right in the heart of campus, like Penn and Harvard. We also had the chance to train at Coxe Cage and Yale’s Outdoor track, both incredible facilities to run at which was a great honour for everyone on the tour. The passion Yale had for BUAC being in their home was incredible to feel and made the end of the tour special for everyone.

 



Across the 2 weeks, the welcoming nature of the American students was a joy. From their generous kit swaps to their warm-hearted conversations and great hospitality in allowing us to stay in their homes; it made the trip that much more enjoyable for us. The socials also put on by our Ivy League counterparts made us feel right at home. From house parties to BBQs to communal dinners together, there was a vast array for everyone within the team to bond with one another and with the Americans!


Words from Zachary Blair

Athletics Club PR & Media Secretary, student on the trip.


N.B. Any donation from our alumni is greatly appreciated, to help continue our transatlantic athletics tours into the future, if you can donate please click here.





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