Trying to keep up with South Carolina junior Melanie Ng on the cross country course is hard enough. Trying to keep up with her off the course is nearly impossible. Ng is a triple major at South Carolina, studying international business, economics and Spanish with a minor in Latin American studies. The junior is in the Honors College, already working on her senior thesis, and she recently spent most of her summer studying abroad.
"I just thought of it as a great experience to meet some people," Ng said. "Now I have friends all around the world and all across the United States. I'm trying to graduate on time. In order to finish up my Spanish major requirements, I decided to take my elective courses over in Spain. I went to class, and I ran a lot. I really learned that I could take care of myself in a different part of the world."
Ng was in Spain for six weeks, spending much of her time in Granada, which is in the southern part of the country.
"It's one of the oldest cities," Ng said. "You have all of this influence from the Muslims. La Alhambra, which is an old fortress, is there and you have all of that history there. It's so gorgeous."
All of her classes were in Spanish, and although she claims to be proficient, but not fluent in the language, she didn't have any problems with her academics, which shouldn't come as a surprise as she has been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll after each of her first two years on campus. Ng lived with a host family that was coordinated through Academic Programs International.
"My host mom, Encarni, only spoke Spanish," Ng said. "She was the sweetest lady. She cooked the best food. Sometimes her mother stayed with us, and she was very difficult to understand. It was great though."
The experience allowed the 20-year-old Ng to not only get an education, but also keep up with her training for the upcoming cross country season.
"My host-mom lived more than a mile away from the school," Ng said. "You have to walk to school there. I'd be up before the sun and out the door by 6 a.m., and I'd go run a six mile loop. I'd run down out of the city and along the river on this awesome dirt road. The only people out were the college-aged kids coming back from the clubs. So I had to deal with some hecklers in the morning. It was awesome to see the city come to life. When I'd go out, there would be nobody, but when I came back you'd see the people opening up their stores."
The miles passed easily during her afternoon and evening runs as well.
"The contrast was crazy compared to the mornings because there were so many people out and about," Ng said. "I had to run on the sidewalks to get out to the dirt roads, and I'd have to weave in and out of a lot of people. I found some Spaniards to run with occasionally, which was great because I got a chance to practice my Spanish. I also had the chance to run in the mountains a couple of times. That was very challenging but very rewarding with all of the views."
Ng was rewarded for her hard work on the trails as she won the junior division at a 6 kilometer road race in a Córdoba, taking second place in the female division.
"That was interesting because they wouldn't let me register online because I wasn't a Spanish citizen," Ng said. "I went over to Córdoba to register for the race the day before, and they wouldn't let me register. So I came back race-day morning and told them I came all the way from the United States, so they finally gave me a number because I wouldn't leave them alone."
That sort of persistence and thirst for knowledge seems to pay off in everything she does. Ng also spent some time scuba diving in the Mediterranean Sea.
"That was one of many amazing experiences," Ng said. "The water off Cabo de Gata was so clear, and I enjoyed seeing the tropical fish, coral, and plants under the surface. I even got to hold a live starfish."
In addition to being a student-athlete with a triple major, Ng is also a member of Beta Gamma Sigma, which is the premier honor society recognizing business excellence, a member of the international business student advisory committee, and she's the secretary of the Spanish Honor Society. Ng won't be slowing down anytime soon. Once cross country season is over, she'll be off to Chile to study abroad again in the spring.
When asked how she has time for all of that, Ng simply said, "I don't know. I really don't."
Ng captured three top-10 finishes in the five cross country events she ran for the Gamecocks last year. Running is something that she sees as a release for her, and she's excited about the 2015 season.
"I feel like I'm in a really good spot mentally for the season," Ng said. "Going abroad and having different scenery with no pressure made me fall in love with it again. I'd really like to go to SECs (Championships) and place in the top ten."
Ng hasn't decided what career path her triple major would take her. He dream job would be getting paid to travel. She is also thinking about going to law school, but could also see herself in a career as a professor.
At her current pace, maybe she could find a way to do all three.