Macalester prides itself in its diversity with 91 countries represented in a student body of approximately 2000. Transitioning to Macalester and the United States comes with all sorts of challenges and differences, one of which is in sports. International students rarely participate in varsity sports at Macalester, in part because many schools overseas don’t have athletic programs associated with them. Elizabete Romanovska ’19 is one of the few.
Romanovska began her life in Latvia, going on hikes with her mother and brother. At the age of 10 she had her first job, working with an organization for youth from troubled families where she played street sports with them. However, organized athletics were never part of her life. Instead, Romanovska passed her time participating in theater until she moved to France. There, she began running on her own in order to explore and enjoy her surroundings more.
While attending high school at the Red Cross Nordic United World College in Norway, Romanovska became even more active by teaching exercise classes and leading her health club. Through these activities she explored the natural beauty of Norway’s mountains and fjords. “Before I came her, sports were a really personal thing. I would just run through the mountains and forests, in nature, and it was beautiful,” Romanovska said.
Despite never having participated in sports competitively, running played a big factor in Romanovska’s college decision. “It was really important for me to run; it was my dream to be part of the running team,” Romanovska said.
After a solo journey that covered two continents, four countries and seven cities in order to visit NYU Shanghai, her top choice, Romanovska decided she could not survive in the densely built environment where running would be nearly impossible due to air pollution. That’s when she turned her full attention to Mac. “When I chose to come to Macalester, I strongly knew that I wanted to run here, so I emailed the coach, Margaret Gehring, and she asked if I wanted to run cross country, too. I had no idea what cross country was, so I googled it,” Romanovska said.
“The scariest day of the past year was the day of my first cross country practice. I was so scared, I don’t even know of what. I had this idea that [my teammates] were professional athletes and I had never run with anyone but myself,” Romanovska said, “It’s hard to join when you’ve never done it before. It’s your [American] thing. I didn’t even know what “meet” meant or what track events there were. So I came, and after the first week I knew what cross country was, I experienced it.”
Although Romanovska is a member of both the Women’s Cross Country and Women’s Track and Field teams at Macalester, she has not yet made her college debut due to a prolonged neck and shoulder injury that she sustained from a fall in October. “The injury is very challenging for me because I’m really excited about running but I can only go very little for now. It’s hard to go to the training room every week and hear that you can’t run for another week,” Romanovska said.
When cleared to run, Romanovska plans to race the 200m dash and 4x200m relay.
Motivation to keep training comes from many places to Romanovska. “It motivates me so much to see how much I can grow and how challenging it is physically and mentally.” she said.
Coaches Betsy Emerson , Margaret Gehring and teammates also keep Romanovska working towards her goals. “Because I travel so much, I never really feel like I belong, but my coaches and teammates make me feel like I belong to the team. I’m never ‘one of’ and on the team I finally feel like I’m ‘one of.’”
Although international students are not hard to find in the Macalester community, it does not mean it is always easy for them fit in. At the beginning of her time at Mac, people only asked Romanovska the same, basic questions about her international identity without ever breaking into more meaningful conversation. “Most people ask what languages I know, but one person asked me if I liked rain, because I smile when it rains. It meant so much,” Romanovska said.
For Romanovska, being intentional in her life, academics and athletics are extremely important. Choosing happiness and honesty are two ways she prioritizes them. “I went surfing in Indonesia and I looked around, and everyone was having such a great time. That’s when I realized that whatever I do I want to find a way to enjoy it because enjoyment doesn’t only mean something is easy. People often forget that.”
“In every workout I have to be honest, like by giving my best without making excuses but at the same time knowing not to push my injury too far,” Romanovska said.