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September 28, 2009

From Poland to Flagstaff, The Journey of Eliza Gawryluk to NAU

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Running for her native country of Poland, Eliza Gawryluk always had ambitions of coming to the United State and competing in cross country at the collegiate level. This past fall, Interim Track and Field Director Eric Heins gave her that chance, and thus far the sophomore has yet to disappoint.

On Sept. 19, Gawryluk and the rest of her teammates swept both titles at the 65th annual Aztec Invitational. What was even more surprising for Heins was the third place overall finish by Gawryluk.

“I think it was a pleasant surprise since she is new to the training and altitude over here,” said Heins. “For her to go out and finish as the second girl on our team was a great surprise.”

Heins wasn’t the only one taken aback by the performance, Gawryluk herself wasn’t expecting the great finish either.

“I was surprised that I came in third,” said Gawryluk. “I didn’t think I would come in second on our team. I thought Nell (Rojas) or Haley (Lawrence) would be in front of me.”

Although her race in San Diego may have seemed like a breeze, Gawryluk’s journey to the Flagstaff is one that Heins considers to be a little “lucky”.

At the European Cup 10,000m event in Portugal this past June, Gawryluk came across a former graduate student from NAU.

“I was at the European Cup competition in Portugal and I met Tibor,” said Gawryluk. “I talked with him and told him I wanted to study in the United States. He recommended Flagstaff and NAU to me because of the high altitude and it being a great place to train. He wrote to coach Heins, and then coach was able to get in contact with me, and now I am here.”

With both teams continuing to compete at the national level year in and year out, Heins knew that landing Gawryluk could boost an already stellar women’s squad.

“Looking at her times that she has run in the past, we expected her to come in and be somebody who runs in the top four for us and be someone who adds depth to that spot,” said Heins. “She can be very competitive at the national stage if she continues to improve like she has in the first month.”

Since her arrival at NAU, Gawryluk has had to overcome many different obstacles in her short time on campus. The sophomore needed to be cleared by the NCAA to compete, which she has been. She has also had to try and overcome the language barrier which can be tough at times. Lastly, the altitude has been something that Gawryluk has had to battle.

“It has been very hard,” said Gawryluk. “Every practice I give 110 percent, so that I hope I can get used to the altitude.”

Even with all the obstacles she has had to overcome, Gawryluk knows that her experience over here in the United States is nothing to take for granted. She is the first of her family to come over to the U.S and she knows she has a lot of support back home in Olsztyn, Poland.

“My family is very happy and proud of me for coming over to NAU,” said Gawryluk. “I hope they can come visit me, I know they want to.”

With her first race in the books, and a multitude of support from her family and teammates, Gawryluk is setting herself up for a quite a career at NAU.