A Rotorua runner who has been offered more than 20 scholarships to overseas universities is one step closer to achieving her goal of competing on the world stage.
Former John Paul College student Hannah Gapes has accepted a full four-year athletic scholarship to North Carolina State University (NC State).
The 18-year-old will make the move to Raleigh, North Carolina in August.
She realised studying overseas was a "real possibility" after winning a slew of major running events in 2020 and 2021.
Last year she claimed gold in the New Zealand Track and Field Championships under-20 5000m and won the senior girls' title at the 47th New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country Championships in June.
A few months later she won the Junior Women's 6km race at the New Zealand Cross Country Championships in Dunedin.
She also won multiple titles in 2020, including the New Zealand Cross Country Challenge and the under-20 Road Race Champion.
For the past five years, Gapes has progressed under the expertise of Rotorua coach Jason Cameron.
She was offered scholarships from more than 20 overseas universities last year and chose NC State because it was the "top running school" in America.
Offers from Duke, Providence, Penn State and Villanova University were heavily considered before she made the final decision.
Gapes could not disclose the exact value of her scholarship but said the estimated cost of attending NC State was NZ$64,000 each year, which equated to NZ$256,000 over four years.
"I wanted to join a team that was going to push me because in Rotorua there isn't too much of that happening. I am hoping to carry the winning streak on," she said.
"It is just about taking each step as it comes. I am only 18 at the moment and I am looking forward to the journey."
Gapes, who trains six to seven times a week, said the scholarship was a "step in the right direction" to achieving her dream of going to the Olympics.
"It is every child's dream, but it has become a bit more real after winning some of these big titles," she said.
"I want to be an Olympian and this is the main way I can get there - to be pushed daily with this amazing team. You can't get any better than that.
She said constant family support and goal setting had given her "the freedom to excel" at running.
"Driving me literally everywhere, all the accommodation bookings and the day-to-day support has really helped me complete what I want to do."
And despite the nerves that came with moving overseas, she said it was "a huge privilege" to receive the "super generous" scholarship.
"It is going to be pretty nerve-racking leaving home for four years but also really fun. I really hope I can reach my goals while over there," she said.
"I am going to miss home, the forest that I run to every day, and my family of course. It is going to be a huge change but I have until August to get ready for it."
She was undecided on her major but was "leaning towards" studying environmental science.
John Paul College principal Patrick Walsh said he had "every confidence" Gapes would be representing New Zealand on the global stage in the next few years.
"She has a deep humility but steely determination to achieve. Hannah has been an outstanding role model at JPC particularly for young women at the elite level of running."
Multiple offers from "prestigious" American universities were a testament to her "ability and potential".
He said Gapes was joining a "small but growing" group of former students who had scholarships to ivy league schools including Oxford, Cambridge and Duke Universities.