Ammar Moussa: The Transition from High School to College

photo courtesy of Brooks Running

Freshmen were not allowed to compete in NCAA varsity sports until 1986 for a pretty good reason – the transition from high school to college is a challenging one for 18-year-old young adults to make, even for those at the very top of the high school ranks.

By all accounts Colorado’s Ammar Moussa has had a solid start to his collegiate career, finishing 88th and scoring as the Buffaloes’ crucial fifth man at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. But even for Moussa and others who have experienced early success, the adjustment for freshmen can be difficult on the academic, athletic and social levels.

Moussa arrived at CU as one of the nation’s top prep runners out of a highly successful program at Arcadia High School. Moussa and the Apaches set course records at the historic Mt. SAC and Woodward Park cross country courses in California and won the Nike Team Nationals title in 2010 behind the high mileage training regimen of coach Jim O’Brien.

Even before stepping foot on campus, Moussa realized his approach from high school would have to change. He could no longer sail through his school work on cruise control while also needing to push the envelope in training knowing he had many improvements yet to make.

Moussa found the training load at Colorado similar to what he did in high school, but instead of running two-a-days, the mileage was mostly completed in singles. Having more capable teammates to run with made training on a daily basis more enjoyable, but the added benefit came with the challenge of Boulders over mile high altitude for an athlete accustomed to sea level running.

“The altitude really kicked my butt. Actually it kind of still kicks my butt. It’s so much harder to be at 9,000 feet trying to get a good long run in at a good pace without crossing that line,” Moussa said about his new training locale.

Outside of running, Moussa found to balance the key to handling the many responsibilities of student-athletes. He breaks it all down to academics, social life, and sleep.

“You cannot be successful at athletics without sleep, you can’t even have athletics without academics, and you need a social life if you don’t want to be miserable,” said Moussa. “Just being smart about [how and] what you balance can save you from a lot of mistakes.”

In addition to the activities freshmen decide to partake in, the timing of their actions can also impact their performances. For instance, social life often must be minimized during the critical championship phases of the cross country, indoor and outdoor track seasons in order to properly rest for the big races.

As for academics, Moussa had a simple but profound tip for freshmen to prosper in the classroom.

“College textbooks. Read them. Enough said.”