Hard work pays off for WWU's Bjornsson in long jump

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 12, 2014 

WWU senior Tanya Bjornsson will be competing in the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships.

WESTERN WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY — Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

In her fifth year at Western Washington University and fourth year competing for the track and field team, Tanya Bjornsson's hard work has finally come to fruition.

Hailing from Ferndale High School, Bjornsson is finally at the pinnacle of her track career, as she heads to the NCAA Division Indoor Track and Field National Championships with four other Vikings. The competition begins Friday, March 14, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"I'm getting pretty nervous," Bjornsson said in a phone interview Tuesday evening, less than 24 hours before the team left for the East Coast. "I'm just going into it blindly. I don't know what to expect."

Bjornsson will be competing in the long jump after jumping more than 19 feet in an indoor event for the first time in her career, something she makes note as a big achievement.

It wasn't an easy road for Bjornsson, though. She always struggled with her flexibility and after setting a goal to make it to the national championship, she knew it was something she had to improve.

"It's hard to get flexible," Bjornsson said. "You have to hit certain positions in the jump, that I couldn't hit because of my flexibility. One of my accomplishments is I'm now able to hit those positions."

To get to that point, Bjornsson stayed after practice, doing drills time after time to gain that ability. She did it on top of 1-2 hours of practice, six days a week and 1-2 hours of weight training, three days a week.

Her hard work didn't go unnoticed by her teammates, who saw her dedication day after day.

"She always comes to practice ready to work hard," Vikings senior Emily Stralser said in a phone interview. "She never makes excuses. Even if she has to workout by herself, she gets it done."

Bjornsson's teammates never doubted her ability and knew the time she put in would pay off. It was, however, surprising she made it in long jump and not the 60-meter hurdles, an event she set a school record in this season.

"It's impressive," Stralser said. "It wasn't even on her radar until coach told her 'This is something you can achieve.' She was able to get more confidence in herself and her abilities after that."

The extra effort didn't come without a price. As with any college sport, an athlete has to give a lot to the competition, Bjornsson said.

"You learn dedication on college sports team," Bjornsson said. "High school is fun but not quite the same dedication. In college, you to spend four hours a day with the same people."

With that large of a commitment, doubts are bound to slip into any athlete's mind and Bjornsson was no different. She thought about it several times, but not giving up paid off.

"You definitely get those thoughts sometimes," Bjornsson said. "You just have to step back and reflect on why you do it. It's tough and hard to do. But if you love it, you keep doing it."

It's not always serious on the track and WWU's team always keep it fun. The team even does an end-of-season team steeplechase competition in which most members will dress up in costume for the event. Bjornsson went in onesie pajamas and devil horns. Another athlete went in a sleeping bag.

"Everyone gets to show their goofy side," Bjornsson said. "It's the fun side of track and field."

The jokes and light-hearted atmosphere extends throughout the season, too. The team knows having fun is part of the sport.

"Tonya and I, we have fun together," Stralser said. "During practice we will - not goof off - but joke around. When we need to focus and get work done, we do that, too."

Five members making it to nationals is proof enough the team knows how to balance having fun and working hard. It also is a big boost of inspiration to the outdoor team, which started its season earlier this month.

"I think getting five people to nationals is a great achievement," Stralser said. "It automatically gives us momentum going into outdoor season. We are setting higher goals for outdoor, looking forward to nationals after seeing the success of other people."

After the indoor national championship, Bjornsson will set her sights on the outdoor national championship, but she knows her career at WWU is winding down.

"I'm definitely a going to miss views of the water all the time," Bjornsson said. "I won't miss the rain, but it comes with the territory."

Bjornsson, who is majoring in French, will take a trip to Iceland this summer after she graduates and will return to the United States to start wine school. She eventually wants to work in the wine industry and will attend a school in Portland, Ore., that teaches the ins and outs of wine country. Eventually, Bjornsson wants to work with wine in France.

"I've always been interested in culture, language and food," she said. "Wine is a big part of that and I wanna keep going with that. Plus, it has a lot to do with the French culture."

For now, Bjornsson will have to settle for a final indoor meet in North Carolina and a few more months of rainy Bellingham.

Reach Josh Hart at josh.hart@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2271.

NCAA DIVISION II INDOOR TRACK AND FIELD NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

When: Friday and Saturday, March 14-15

Site: Winston-Salem, N.C.

WESTERN WASHINGTON QUALIFIERS

Athlete Event Mark (seed)

Tanya Bjornsson Women's long jump 5.82 meters (12)

Frank Catelli Men's shot put 17.51 meters (9)

Alex Donigian Men's 60 meters 6.75 seconds (4)

Chip Jackson Men's mile 4:11.13 (11)

Cheyenna Pinley Women's pole vault 3.81 meters (14)

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