Athletes From Afar
In the history of Seattle Pacific University's athletic program, international athletes have made memorable contributions - both on the field and in the classroom. This year, three promising freshman athletes traveled more than 16,000 miles between them to attend SPU:
Julie Swann. Two years ago, then 33-year-old Julie Swann was visiting Seattle from her home in Droitwich Spa, England. After running near Green Lake, she stopped at a popular café. There, she struck up a conversation with SPU cross country coach Doris Heritage, who asked about her running ability (still improving, Swann is one of England's top runners over age 30).
"I didn't think anything more about it and went back home," she recalls. "Before I knew it, I got a fax from Doris asking me if I was interested in a track and field scholarship."
In her teens, Swann had taken a position in an assayer's office and worked her way up over the next 18 years. A runner since age 13, she also continued training and competing in 800-meter, 1500-meter and 3-kilometer races. But she regretted missing college - and so accepted SPU's offer.
With plans to major in European studies, Swann has already helped the women's cross country team place in the top 10 at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships. "I can't express how thankful I am to SPU for this wonderful opportunity," she says. "Sometimes the thought of home and family is a bit of a tug, but I take it one quarter at a time. You get older and you realize you can start new things."
Gus Balogh. Gyongyver "Gus" Balogh has also begun a new phase of her life at Seattle Pacific. From western Hungary, 26-year-old Balogh is now a forward on the women's basketball team because of a church-league game she joined last winter while visiting friends in Seattle.
"She was the only woman on the court - and she was the only one making baskets," recalls women's basketball coach Gordy Presnell. He offered her a scholarship.
Currently the number-three scorer for the Falcons, Balogh had long hoped to attend an American college. But first she had to learn English, which she did while playing basketball for a Hungarian-sponsored team that often toured US universities. Along the way, she made friends in the Pacific Northwest - and eventually joined that church league game.
Balogh's SPU teammates have welcomed her. "They made it easy for me here," she says. And although basketball is more physical in America than in Hungary, her 14 years of ball-playing experience were a plus. "Even if the younger players are more athletic," she says, "I knew I would be more experienced and that would be on my side."
Vadim Tolstolutsky. Like Balogh, another SPU freshman overcame a language barrier. Soccer forward Vadim Tolstolutsky left Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet state near China, when his parents sought better opportunities for him and his younger sister in the United States three years ago.
Immigrating to Vancouver, Washington, he entered high school. "I didn't know any English, and I felt really left out," he recalls. "I didn't have any friends, and I couldn't do anything about it but learn English."
The son of a professional soccer player and a member of Kyrgyzstan's under-15 national soccer team, Tolstolutsky didn't think college was an option. "It's not that I didn't want to go," says the 18-year-old. "I didn't think that I could."
But with the encouragement of his high school coach, he took the college entrance exams. "I heard about him from a number of my friends," recalls SPU soocer coach Cliff McCrath. "They said, 'You got to get this kid.'" He agreed, making Tolstolutsky a scholarship offer.
The team's number-two scorer for the 1997 season, Tolstolutsky says he'd like to follow his father as a professional soccer player, but without neglecting his education. "I was really nervous coming to SPU," he says. "I was a foreigner and what would the guys think of me and how would they treat me? But everything has been great."