A Hawke's Bay track star who had 14 international universities chasing her talent is heading to the University of Missouri where she's been awarded a NZ$360,000 scholarship.
Middle distance runner Brianna Lee, 18, has been competing for about five and a half years after being approached by a coach at Napier Girls' High School because of her athletic success at intermediate.
Running track has become part of her identity - "I couldn't really see myself without it" - and will now take her more than 12,600 kilometres away from home to Columbia, Missouri.
Her preferred events are the 800m and 1500m;, this year she took a bronze in the junior women's 800 at the New Zealand championships with a time of 2:17.11.
Last year she won silver in the junior women's 1500m with a time of 4:34.03.
Lee said choosing Missouri was one of the biggest decisions she'd ever had to make after receiving offers of athletic scholarships from 14 overseas universities, especially as she was unable to visit them in person because of Covid-19 border restrictions.
It's something she had been working towards throughout her high school career.
"It's been the only path in my mind."
The scholarship will cover tuition and fees, room, board and course-related books.
Asked what she knows of Missouri, she replied "not a lot".
The big move "hadn't sunk in yet", but she was looking forward to starting her studies in nutrition and exercise, along with philosophy and business.
"It's really good to have a broad range in first year."
Outside of family and friends, she will miss the familiarity of everything at home the most.
"The environment, the people, the culture, but I also know at the same time that growth takes place when you're uncomfortable so I look forward to stepping into new surroundings, culture and the whole experience that will come with it.
"I'm not very focused on what I will miss but rather what there is to look forward to."
Her advice for other athletic hopefuls was to "just be yourself".
"Have goals and be really clear on what they are and the why behind them.
"When you're really clear on what you want and why you want it, taking the steps in the right direction is clearer and following through with action is easy."
She said it was also important to surround oneself with people who support and encourage you to be your best, offering her thanks to coach Tony Snell and the Hastings Athletic Club.