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where there's smoke: A building under construction next to the Logan Police Station caught fire from a welder's spark. Damage was estimated at $50,000. / Photo by Gideon Oakes

Today's word on journalism

August 27, 2008

On protests at political conventions:

"The citizens of Denver and St. Paul, and Americans everywhere, should hope officials in those cities already have considered both the constitutional and monetary costs of silencing voices that have a right to be heard. . . . Well-expressed or wacky. Irritating or illuminating. Respectful or raucous. There's nothing in the 45 words of the First Amendment that sets out any such qualifications or limits on protests. Time and again in our history, from women's suffrage to civil rights to tax protests, to name just some, voices first raised in the streets -- to the disgust or disappointment of some -- have led to significant, positive changes in law and American life."

--Gene Policinski, executive director, First Amendment Center, 2008

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Polish pole vaulter on her way to record heights at USU

By Ashley Schiller

May 8, 2008 | BIEGAJ SZYBKO!

(bee-ey-guy ship-ko)

Run fast!

That's how you'd say it if you were in Poland. And that's how Coach Joel Johnson says it when he yells to Utah State University pole vaulter Sonia Grabowska as she approaches a horizontal bar delicately balanced 12 feet, 7 inches above the ground.

Grabowska has only been at USU since January, but she has already recorded the third-best height for a female pole vaulter in both indoor and outdoor track.

"In the next few years, she'll definitely be the best jumper we've ever had," Johnson said.

Intensity. The best word to describe her, according to Johnson.

"If she's having a bad day at practice, most people wouldn't want to be around her," he said. "But every day she jumps is a good day. She wants to jump every day no matter what, but you can't do that."

She actually only practices full-approach jumping one day a week, Johnson said. The other practices focus on balance, flexibility and strength.

Johnson said Grabowska will get mad at him when he tells her to stop. "She'll be jumping up and down saying, ‘One more, coach!"' he said.

But that is the kind of athlete Johnson said he likes to work with - someone who has too much energy is easier to work with than a "deadbeat," he said.

In her intensity, Grabowska has on several occasions throw her pole at practice and once at a meet.

"She's got a lot of fire," Johnson said with a smile.

April 19 was a big day for Grabowska. In the only home meet of the entire season, she competed against gold-medalist, Stacy Dragila who previously ran for Idaho State. Dragila finished with a height of 13 feet, 1 1˛2 inches while Grabowska finished closest to Dragila with 12 feet, 7 1˛2 inches.

On one of her last jumps, Grabowska did a crazy, almost 360 degree twist as she cleared the bar.

"Whoa! Did you see that?" multiple spectators enthusiastically asked.

Grabowska lay on the mat laughing for about 10 seconds before she got up.

"I have no idea how I did that," she said, "It was funny."

Her coach called it a "holy roly."

After competing, Grabowska asked Dragila to sign her spikes, which are special shoes for pole vaulters. Dragila designed the pair. They have a silicone pad protecting the achilles tendon, which is most commonly injured by jumpers.

Grabowska herself had surgery on her achilles tendon in January of 2007, but she has completely recovered.

Another comment made by a spectator at the April 19 meet was about Grabowska's hair.

"She has the coolest hair ever. I wish I had her hair," a spectator said as Grabowska sat waiting for the pole to be reach a height where she would begin competing. She does not usually start jumping until the pole is at least 12 feet, 4 inches above the ground.

Her boyfriend Lucas Wicha, also Polish and a member of the track team, is actually the man who scissored Grabowska's coveted hair. Her sandy bangs fall long and full just past her eyebrows. The rest of her hair is cropped short, framing her delicate face without touching her shoulders. She said she once went to a salon here for a color and cut, but the stylist "cut it very strange" and Wicha had to fix it.

Grabowska and Wicha are two of only three international athletes on the track team. The other is a fellow pole-vaulter from Canada.

Johnson said athletes from outside the U.S. are always very good at technical things. Athletes are trained younger to precisely control body movement, making them "elastically strong and explosive," he said.

Coming to the United States has been a huge transition for both Grabowska and Wicha, who sought out scholarships and came together. The personable coaches are the main reason they chose USU, she said.

The most difficult physical transition was the altitude change. It took them over a month to adjust, Grabowska said.

"We would just jog two laps or something and just oh-h-h-h-h. The altitude was the worst adjustment," she said.

And of course the language is a big change. Both spoke English before, but their abilities have improved, especially in writing, Grabowska said. She said she doesn't have to use the dictionary so much anymore.

Because she speaks English "extremely well," language has not been a damaging barrier, Johnson said. He said he also uses a lot of mannerisms when speaking, and often demonstration as another way to communicate.

"She is really funny and has picked up on sarcasm. She uses it very well, which is hard for a non-native speaker," he said.

Some of the greatest differences between Poland and the Utah are social behaviors, Grabowska said.

"Here, it's normal to ask ‘How are you?' everywhere, even in the supermarket," she said, explaining that people are not so open in Poland.

And there it is always Mr. or Mrs. Professor, never the name, she said. She and Wicha laughed as they remembered how polite they were their first few days in Logan, speaking with everyone so formally. Another contrast of cultures is the nature of marriage and dating. "Here they date for three months and get married," Grabowska said.

In Poland, most people don't marry in college, she said. Marriage is more common at age 28 to 30.

"The most important thing is a good job and a good education, then family," she said.

It is much easier to have a family here because salaries are bigger, Wicha said. "Any job is a good job here," he said, adding that a person can work at a supermarket and have enough money to pay for rent and a car.

In addition to her family, with whom she speaks almost daily, Grabowska misses Polish bread. It is expensive and does not taste the same here, she said. The one place she has found that she likes is Hazel's in the Taggart Student Center, where she and Wicha frequently buy fresh bread.

And if she's craving a European dessert, she goes to Sweetly Divine, a local bakery owned by a Polish man. The shop has desserts from all over Europe but an especially Polish treat is the apple pie, Grabowska said.

There are about 20-30 Polish living in Cache Valley, Grabowska said. Some are in the chemistry and math departments at USU and one is a hockey player, she said.

Another polish athlete will be coming in the fall. A good friend of Wicha's is coming to long jump for USU. The three will probably live together, Wicha said.

Grabowska and Wicha said they like living in the U.S. If they are able to get green cards, they'd like to stay. But that is a decision that won't come for awhile. As a freshman, Grabowska has three more years of eligibility and opportunity to break school records.

Her potential is huge, Johnson said.

MS
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