Rachel McArthur is taking her talents from Villanova to Colorado.
We caught up with the recent transfer and were able to ask her a few questions.
Many thanks to Rachel for taking the time to chat with us!
The Stride Report: When did you first realize that you wanted to start looking at other schools? Was there anything about Villanova that you weren’t happy with?
Rachel McArthur: At the end of my first year attending Villanova, naturally, I reflected upon how the year had gone and how I felt I had progressed. As an athlete, I was beyond satisfied with my performances and as a student, I felt I had managed the college workload/new lifestyle relatively well. However, despite having so much to feel proud about and satisfied with, I realized that I did not feel truly happy.
As a freshman, I did understand that the first year of college is always the hardest, especially when balancing athletics. So at first, I simply waved off the doubts I was having as “adjusting” to a new lifestyle. I did not ever immediately think, “I want to look elsewhere” or “I want to transfer”. I simply took it upon myself to recognize what I was feeling and determine what it was that I needed to do in order to change that. I thought this would be to ignore what I felt until it went away.
It was not until the middle of my sophomore year at Villanova that I determined I wanted to look elsewhere. I began to realize that the doubts I felt in my first year were not just because I was in a new environment and was still adjusting, but that they were legitimate feelings that I could not keep ignoring.
My reasons for unhappiness were entirely personal. When deciding on a college, I did ask myself if I would be happy at Villanova if I was not running, and the honest answer was no. But I fell in love with the program, the coaches, the campus, and the people I met, and so I convinced myself that regardless of what I felt the answer would be, I would make it work.
I told myself there was also no reason I wouldn’t be running and even given the chance I were to get injured; I would still be surrounded by all the great things that drew me to Villanova in the first place. But eventually, despite what I thought I could handle, I found myself unhappy.
None of the negative feelings I had were attributed to the Villanova track/cross country program. I credit much of my success to my previous coaches and teammates who provided me with unconditional support and countless opportunities to perform at the best of my ability throughout my career at Villanova. I will always be grateful for everything they provided me with and I am proud to have represented them for as long as I did.
I never endured any major injuries while at Villanova that really prevented me from running (minus a mild concussion from slipping on a morning run). But it came down to the hours spent between runs each day, the times after practice had ended and we all went home, even the minutes between classes when I felt the only thing I looked forward to was the next time I would be running. It was not a healthy desire to run, but rather, it became the only thing that distracted me and made me feel as if I was doing something worthwhile.
I spent quite a lot of time alone my sophomore year, whether this was running alone on my “off days” or going on hour walks each night, and much of that time was dedicated to thinking about how I could change the overwhelming feelings of dissatisfaction and unfulfillment I began to constantly feel. This firstly included figuring out what it was that made me feel this way, and simply put, I determined that I just desired more. I realized that there is more to life than running, but the way I had been living had prevented me from wanting to pursue more than that.
Again, I never thought to transfer. I am going into my junior year now, meaning I spent two years at my previous university doing whatever I could to change how I felt. I am incredibly grateful to have had wonderful and supportive people by my side throughout the entire process, including my previous coach, as it was the most difficult decision I have had to make. But my decision came down to choosing to focus on my overall happiness, and I felt the only way to preserve that, was to leave.
TSR: What made you choose to transfer to Colorado?
Rachel: When I was in high school, I would definitely say I was a homebody. Pretty immediately upon getting in contact with college coaches, I determined that I wanted to go to a college located relatively near to my home in northern Virginia. However, I did have the University of Colorado on my radar. But as a 16-year-old girl who was very close with her family who had also lived in the same place all her life, I didn’t think I could handle moving across the country/attending college so far away. Therefore, I didn’t pursue it much, other than buy a bit of CU apparel and put the school name on my list of “potentials”.
When it came to deciding where it was I wanted to transfer to, I had a few schools in mind. But it was a complicated situation, as taking official campus visits during my athletic season/school year would interrupt my training as well as potentially throw off the team dynamic. Therefore, my coaches and I determined that the best way to go about my decision to transfer was to keep it confidential. This being the case, I was to gather all the information I could about each program I spoke to without taking any official visits and without publicizing my decision to leave.
Of course, CU was still on my list, along with two other programs. After the years spent at Villanova, I came to the conclusion that I was not in fact as keen to stay centralized around the east coast as I had originally thought, and so I was open to looking at schools that were located further away. With Colorado, I was very fortunate to have already been previously exposed to the campus and team, whether on trips to the Midwest or at track/cross country meets where both CU and Villanova were present, so it wasn’t hard to imagine what life there was like.
I desired a great team atmosphere, resources available to make me a better athlete, coaches that believed in me and supported me, the major I wanted to pursue, but most importantly, I desired to be somewhere that I would be happy at no matter if I was healthy enough to be running all the time, or not.
I managed to fit in a visit to the university during the only break I had in the school year, when word of my decision to leave was slowly making its way out. I chose Colorado for the many reasons I previously stated, but arriving on campus and immediately feeling as if I was home is what confirmed the decision for me. Having family that had been in the area previously and were familiar with everything the city of Boulder had to offer, I was provided with a lot of support for my decision, confirming that everything I desired was available to me here.
TSR: Before this Q&A, you had mentioned that there was plenty of false information surrounding your transfer. What are some of the most outlandish things you have heard in regards to that? Is there anything you want to clear up?
Rachel: I knew that word of me transferring would spark a bit of debate/conversation potentially between coaches or those who know me well, but I never imagined that so many people (mostly strangers!) were going to have opinions on the matter.
Unfortunately, I cannot make everyone happy and I understand that this decision has proved that. However, I am putting my happiness first and don’t feel as if anyone should ever be persecuted for doing so. That being said, there are many people who are not on my side that I imagined would be. It is upsetting to see/hear what those people have had to say, but I am happy in my decision and confident that it was the right one for me.
As I said before, I have had a lot of support from my friends and my family throughout this process, especially coming from my mom and sisters. Those around me understand that this has not been an easy process at all and it was by no means an easy decision to leave Villanova. Coming to terms with a) the fact that I was unhappy and b) the realization that I wanted to transfer, was very difficult and took a lot of self-discovery and determination of what I needed to do in order to be happier with my life.
Unfortunately, I have received (and still do receive) a lot of negativity regarding all of the decisions I have made. I had not planned on making a public statement about my decision to transfer and I especially did not want to feel as if I needed to justify my reasoning for doing so. However, receiving, reading and hearing so many negative things from people who have had something to say about me for choosing to focus on my own well-being/happiness, is hurtful to say the least. But I decided that if anyone wants to form their own opinion on what they believe is best for me, at least let them speak poorly about true facts and not what I’ve been reading!
TSR: Let’s talk about the future. The Colorado women have lost a handful of top scorers due to graduation and expiring eligibility, but the team will still be very competitive this year. What are your personal goals for the upcoming cross country season?
Rachel: I am very, very excited to be joining the Buffs this year. I am still settling in to Colorado and adapting to both the training and just general living environment, but I feel really good about how I’m progressing. The team is very strong and has a lot of really great and hardworking girls on it, despite losing a few last year. I do not know what the year will hold for me, but I of course want to lower my PB’s and do whatever I can to contribute to the team ranking in both cross country and track. As of now, I hope to stay healthy and injury free and adjust to my new living environment (and get used to the altitude!).
TSR: All-American Emily Venters has also transferred to Colorado. What was your reaction to hearing that she would also be joining the team?
Rachel: Emily and I met on the U20 USA Jr. National Team a couple summers ago and I am really excited to be on the CU team with her. She’s very sweet and is also an outstanding athlete who is clearly very dedicated and will be a great asset to the team. Previous to her commitment, we chatted a bit about the school/program and we are both very excited to start training and meeting everyone. It’ll also be nice to have another transfer student to be able to talk about all these experiences with!
TSR: Have you met up with any of your new teammates yet? How have they helped you throughout this transition process?
Rachel: As I arrived very early to Colorado (late June), there aren’t too many of the athletes on the team here yet. Despite not having met too many people in person, many of them have reached out to me (via social media or phone) and really made me feel welcomed. Both the athletes and coaches have recommended some great runs, places to eat and things to do while I’m out here, which is incredibly helpful because I’m still pretty unfamiliar with the area. I’m stoked to get to know everyone and start having some more people to train with as well.
TSR: Any final comments?
Rachel: Just a thank you to those who stuck with me through this process! I am very confident in my decision and I’m happy to have great friends, family, teammates and coaches here to support me!