My American Dream
I am a videographer and photographer, and my wife is a graphic designer. Born and raised in France, I have since then realized my own version of the American dream and have made a living in the Seattle area. I would like to share my story because I want to give back what has been given to me: the opportunity of an education as a student-athlete.
In the beginning
My first thought about studying in the United States came about after reading the French novel "L'Étudiant Étranger" by Philippe Labro, later brought to the screen in 1994 as "Foreign Student." It told the story of a young French student who was given the opportunity to study at Washington & Lee University in Virginia. I was thoroughly fascinated and soon realized I had to have a similar experience. I could imagine myself flying "there," wherever that was, and experience an entirely new and exotic life capped by a degree from an American education. I was like Ralphie Parker dreaming about his Red Ryder air rifle. I furiously did some research on the ways to make it happen but soon realized how Herculean my task was. Not only were school tuition and fees exorbitant for my lower middle class family but foreign undergrads did not get scholarships from those institutions. And that was not even taking into account room and board. Moreover, short of a benefactor's generous largess or a rare opportunity to be given a scholarship by some group or another my chances to study abroad were close to none.
I have always been involved with sports. I have found it easy to pick up any activity I tried and did very well. Growing up in Northern France my friends and I followed sports events and did our own competitive championships. We picked up rackets when any of the four grand slam tournaments were on. We scrummed when the Five Nations Championships were televised. The Tour de France was on? We all raced around our apartments. I also swam, played volleyball, basketball, etc. In short, if it was on TV it also took place in Roubaix, France. Two sports stood out, however. I ran track in my teen years and played soccer as far back as I can remember. My studies were uneventful: I was a good student and sat in the back of the class, goofing off with some friends and collecting straight As, to the annoyance of some classmates.
An unexpected turn of event
My very good friend Laurent, my eternal rival on the fields and on the courts, gave me a copy of a magazine named "Newsport" in the late eighties as I was still pondering how I could ever study in the US—it had become an obsession. The magazine was out of the ordinary: it covered sports from the US that were completely foreign to us but whose exotic and tantalizing acronyms were beacons of glorious exuberance for Europeans—NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL. The pages were very colorful and the paper glossy and thick. It was a unique experience and I soon subscribed to the magical monthly. I was mostly playing club basketball at the time and soon Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson became household names. It was fun but it also led me to understand what being hit by a ton of bricks meant on a fateful month of October 1989.
The October issue of Newsport was not surprising. Its cover featured Bo Jackson, the incredibly gifted multi sport athlete. The usual Jordan and Magic articles were mentioned, as were some "scandalous" events gripping the world of baseball. What was surprising was the presence of a French athlete among the aforementioned illustrious luminaries. My curiosity piqued, I skipped everything else and started reading about "Le Sack." Every true Georgia Bulldog fan has heard of, read about, or knows Richard Tardits, the young French rugby player who walked on to the University of Georgia's football team then exploded on the scene with his school record 29 career sacks in 1988. He was an exchange student who had never played football before and later played as a linebacker in the NFL. Now, that was an interesting article, particularly the part where Richard casually explained that young French athletes could, as he had done, get athletic scholarships to study in an American college, and that he would gladly reply to any letter sent to him for more information. That was when the proverbial ton of bricks vaporized the meaning of "interesting".
Things get real
To my surprise, I received an odd-sized #10 envelope from Richard himself. An autographed picture of the New England Patriots accompanied his letter where I learned about the convoluted college admission process, the Standardized Admission Tests (SAT), and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The mirage-like prospect of landing an athletic scholarship was actually at hand. I read about college sports recruiting and soon understood that team sports required in-person try-outs. Soccer is my first love and I have not known a sport more than "the beautiful game." However, the prospect of taking a loan for the trip of a lifetime and running the risk of not being picked was too much of a risk for a penniless young man. My goal was to go and stay as a student-athlete; failing to make the team would have dashed my hopes for good. I signed up with a track club and trained again in my favorite events: long and triple jump. Track is one of those sports where measurable accomplishments do not require try-outs. By the time I was routinely jumping into the sand pits, I had taken the SATs and the TOEFL, and had contacted numerous NCAA schools by mail using Barron's Profiles of American Colleges. I spent what seemed like a fortune in postage, inquiring about their track program, and finding out what their expectations were for scholarships. I had no clue about school prestige and sent applications left and right, mostly to well known institutions and those located in suburbs or rural areas. My ideas of what constituted a dream college experience were purely based on my wild imagination, and a show called Twin Peaks. As a result, most, if not all, Pacific Northwest schools received my letters.
A hilarious mix-up and an offer
The dream became more real as I started receiving replies from interested schools. Many opened their doors to me but only with the offer to be part of their teams. Some offered partial scholarships. One school stood out in the process: the University of Washington. The Huskies were quite enthusiastic in their reply; they urged me to read their luxurious brochure to learn about the program and announced that they would be proud to have me on the team on a full-ride scholarship. That meant everything: tuition, fees, and room & board would be covered. I dizzily skimmed over the program depicting the beautiful campus and its cherry tree-lined alleys, the alluring Emerald City, and the enviable opportunities for outdoor activities. I was too ecstatic to notice the elephant in the room right away. As a read the program again, it soon hit me that all the depicted athletes were young women. I closed the brochure to read its title more closely. Sure enough, the track program was about the women's track team. I felt deflated and soon figured that upon reading my name they could not tell what gender I was. They had probably assumed the spelling of my name was somehow feminine and they jumped up and down thinking I could do the same for them—that is, leaping 21+ feet in long jump, and thus placing me among the world elite in women's long jump at the time.
My disappointment, although painful, was short-lived. I started corresponding regularly with Idaho State University, an NCAA Division I school that wanted me on their team. They offered me a scholarship from my sophomore year onward if I performed as I had stated in my inquiring letter. That was my closest, most reachable possibility so I pulled the trigger. I secured a loan for my first year from a French bank, whose first payment was due five years away. That gave me four years to graduate and one year to secure a job to start paying the loan back. Things happened quickly afterwards. I began my fantastic journey abroad in 1992, competed on the road in the Big Sky conference, made the Dean's List, lettered, received all-conference academic awards, made numerous friends from around the world, graduated in four years, and even rubbed shoulders with one of ISU's most notable alumni: Staci Dragila, the heptathlete turned pole vaulter at a time when the event was not even official. She went on to win the first ever world championship and Olympic gold medals for women's pole vault in Paris and Sydney respectively, and set several world records. She now runs her own pole vault school with great success.
A new age
Things have changed since the early 90s but every young student-athlete still dreams of scoring the athletic scholarship that will propel them to an all-expense-paid or lower-cost education, which includes the thrill of defending the school colors on the courts, on the fields, and in the arenas. We can now all leverage social media and the ability to instantly communicate with anyone around the world. Today's young athletes no longer need to send letters in the mail to inquire about a program. Today's coaches need to know what athletes are capable of even before meeting them for try-out sessions. Athletes can greatly benefit from the ability to showcase their skills in such a way that will prompt coaches to contact them. Schools only have so many scouts and are not aware of many athletes who could join their teams. As for scouting agencies, they only have so many members and, frankly, only add an additional layer separating prospective athletes from coaches.
What a young athlete needs is a recruiting video that showcases their athletic and academic achievements. That is what I offer as a videographer who has experienced the recruiting process, the college sports life, and the thrill of making a dream come true. I want my dream to be a young athlete's dream as well.
In my next blog entry I will cover what coaches look for, what types of scholarships are offered, and what it takes to become a college varsity athlete. Stay tuned and learn how Reel Hawks Studio can help!