5,600 miles from home: Hungarian runners find their way back
Graduate student Virag Weiler and sophomore redshirt student Anna Pataki are not used to running in large groups. Both runners are from Hungary, over 5,600 miles apart, where they would train either alone or with one or two other people.
But here at the University of Portland, they train with a team of 27 people almost every day of the week.
“It gives me a lot of motivation,” Pataki said. “I think it’s so good that we always practice together. We can motivate and support each other.
This is just one of the many adjustments Weiler and Pataki had to make during their time at the University of Portland. But it’s something they’ve grown to appreciate as the 2019 cross-country season begins to heat up, with both riders set to be major contributors.
The two riders met while running for the same club in Budapest, KSI SE. They faced each other for years but became teammates in college after Pataki came to Budapest from his small town of Miskolc.
Sport has been a part of Weiler’s life since he was 2 years old. She started swimming at 6 and running at 7. At 15, after realizing that maybe five sports were a bit too much, she decided to focus on running.
However, it’s not just regular long-distance running that interests him. Weiler also does a lot of orienteering, which involves trying to find his way through the forest with nothing but a map. Riders must use the map to reach certain control points from the start line. After reaching these checkpoints, you win the race.
“It’s just a lot of fun being out in nature and running and using your brain at the same time,” Weiler said. “People might think, ‘So it’s like hiking so it’s not that bad’ but there are orienteering races, mostly girls, but there are boys who have qualified for the Games. Olympic in 5K or 3K, steeplechase. There are also some very good runners.
Pataki started running around the age of 10. She had been kayaking for three years before but found it wasn’t really her speed. Her dad told her she had to do something else if she didn’t want to kayak, so she went to her local trail and decided she wanted to run.
Weiler has been on The Bluff for a year now. She contacted several running coaches after graduating in mathematics from the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, including Portland head coach Ian Solof. According to Solof, Weiler contacted him, interested in running and studying in the United States.
This led to multiple conversations via Facebook messaging, Skype, Facetime, in every way possible so Solof could get a feel for what Weiler would do as an athlete and a student. Solof was feeling good with Weiler and decided to make him an offer to come study and run at the University of Portland. It was an offer Weiler felt she couldn’t refuse.
“At first, I was really surprised that I was able to go to the United States to study and get a scholarship there,” Weiler said. “I didn’t feel so good, but then I thought to myself, this is such a good opportunity and I have to go and see how it is. Just get to know another culture.
Last year, Weiler was instrumental in driving the Drivers’ best result in program history. She won the All-WCC Honorable Mention for her 12th place finish in conference competition and was also among the top seven at the national championships.
Solof points to Weiler’s consistency as his greatest asset. Solof said that while Weiler will never get you out of the water with her speed, she will rarely have a bad run.
“She’s kind of one of those silent collaborators who (is) always there to help the team,” Solof said. “But there is nothing flashy and nothing where everyone is going to go ‘Wow, this is an amazing race! Yeah, she won this great race! ‘ It probably won’t happen, but she will be there to contribute to the college group.
Adjusting to life in the United States was difficult for Weiler. She graduated in Mathematics in Hungary, so naturally she pursued a Masters in Engineering when she arrived. But it is a difficult degree to pursue, especially when you are learning complex subjects like computer science in a language that is not natural to you.
“My English was not that good, so it was really difficult at first to speak English all the time and listen to my teachers for three hours,” Weiler said. “And the school was also very stimulating.”
Everything was difficult for Weiler. She felt like the new girl in more ways than one and struggled to make friends at first. Solof remembers that she was shy when she first arrived here.
“I think when she arrived she was quite nervous, especially about her English and her ability to talk to people and understand people,” Solof said. “And it’s hard. I don’t know if we had someone else in the school in Hungary before Virag came in, so it’s always a bit more difficult.
Slowly but surely, Weiler adapted. She went from engineering to business. She has become more confident with her English. She even wrote a blog so her family could better understand what her life was like in the United States.
“At first it was very difficult for me to make friends, but it got easier after a while,” Weiler said. “I feel like the whole last year has been very difficult in school and racing and I’m getting used to everything here, but now I feel like it’s a lot easier now that I’m not the new girl. “
After spending a year here, Weiler told Solof about a friend she had at home who wanted to run in the United States. This friend was Pataki, who was a loyal reader of Weiler’s blog. Pataki decided after reading her blog that she wanted to go there and try this new opportunity.
Pataki now finds herself in a situation similar to Weiler, adjusting to a place she’s never been, balancing school with running and doing everything in a language that is not her native language.
“I’m trying to adapt to this community,” Pataki said. “It was really hard and difficult for me with the language and a lot of new people who maybe know each other but I don’t know.”
Pataki and Weiler both have high expectations for themselves. One of their goals for this year is to continue to adapt to training. Weiler explained that she runs between 60 and 70 miles per week in Hungary, but now the wait is around 75 miles with core and strength training.
“They didn’t really care about core training or core training or strength training,” Weiler said of his former club.
Weiler might have been in the top seven, and Solof points to her as one of the main reasons they finished second at the CMCs last fall, but she still believes there is room for improvement.
Pataki has adapted to training as well, but she feels in the best shape of her career. For now, his goal is to do his best and see where that takes the team. She’s been doing well so far, recently finishing first on the team with an 11th place finish at the WCC Championships. Weiler finished fifth on the team and 24th overall.
Despite the difficulties in adjusting, there are a lot of things they love about the United States, like the open-mindedness and kindness of strangers. Weiler remembers how strange it was when she was with the traveling team to have random people showing a genuine interest in her and the group. She said kindness extends to everyday situations.
“One day I was walking around campus and a girl said to me ‘Oh my god, I really like your shirt!’ and I was surprised because in Hungary people don’t really care about other people, ”Pataki said. “But this girl was so sweet.”
The kindness of others had a positive effect on Weiler in particular. The calm girl who adjusts to a new place doesn’t feel the same kind of fear and dread as before. She feels more open to people, which she did not feel in Hungary.
“I’ve never had a conversation with a stranger before, but when I came home after studying here, sometimes I was like ‘Oh yeah, I want to ask this guy or girl something’, and then I was just asking her when and I had a conversation, “Weiler said.” It was so nice talking to strangers. “
Both of them still miss home, but it’s not something they think about all the time, mainly because they don’t have the time. Usually they run with the team or do their homework. But no two days are the same, and on days like Saturday, when there’s no team training and maybe there isn’t a lot of homework, there can be have almost too much time to think.
“For me, when I have free time, or when I have time to think, then I can feel ‘Oh, I miss my family’,” Pataki said. “But when I have a lot to do, when I have a busy day, I can’t think about it.”
It helps to have teammates who can help you get through this. With a lot of international students on the team, they both feel like there are people out there who understand what they’re going through.
“International students can relate to each other,” Weiler said. “Especially before the mid-sessions and before the finals week we have more issues than we miss a lot at home. It’s good to go see another girl who also has the same issues.
Back in Hungary, running is done in clubs, and it seemed more individual to both Weiler and Pataki. It’s not the same as the team experience they had in Portland. This team experience has been largely positive, and Weiler felt like he was finally part of a team last fall with the trip to the national championships.
“It was really special to race for a team and not for ourselves or myself,” said Weiler. “In Hungary we don’t really have team competitions so it’s just another experience… It’s so good to run for a team and work together for the same goal.”
Kyle Garcia is the sports writer for The Beacon. He can be contacted at [email protected]