Oct. 25, 2011
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By Mark Janssen
Flint Hills natives would likely view the picturesque Swiss Alps as being a slice of heaven.
But then, listen to how the Tresch family, natives of Rueti, Switzerland, views the landscape around Kansas State.
“The sunrise, when I was out this morning, was absolutely beautiful,” said junior cross country ace Martina Tresch. “There’s such an unbelievable feeling of freedom here. You just keep going, and going, and going and have a feeling of running free.”
Visiting Manhattan for the first time last week were Tresch’s parents, Thomas and Katharina.
“It’s just a beautiful sea of land. The horizons go far, far. It is never ending,” said Katharina. “You see the heavenly sunset one way, and the half-dark sky the other way. Such an amazingly beautiful place.”
But let’s get this straight. The Tresch family wasn’t 100 percent sure about sending their daughter thousands of miles away to run track at Kansas State.
Using his wife as a translator, Thomas, a train engineer by profession, said, “Hard, hard. It was hard. I understand now, but it’s still hard.”
“My husband was not fond of the idea,” explained Katharina, who speaks Swiss-German as a first language. “If something happens here (to Martina), we would not be by her side to help. We knew no one here. That bothered him very much.”
Martina adds with a warm smile, “I’m his little girl and I was going away.”
Tresch heads into Saturday’s Big 12 Conference cross country championships in College Station, Texas, as the Wildcats’ No. 1 runner, and coming off a 6K school record run of 20:58 at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis, Minn. The clocking was eight seconds faster than the former mark set by Amy Mortimer in 2002.
For Tresch, it’s another of those walk-ons to stardom stories at K-State.
Yes, that’s right. Tresch left her homeland to run at K-State without the benefit of a scholarship.
“I wasn’t going to get financial help anywhere I went, so that wasn’t a big deal,” said Tresch, who said she knew only “minimal” English when she arrived in the fall of 2009. “I planned on being here one year to learn the language and then see what happened.”
Of learning English, she said, “I understood quite a bit, but I couldn’t express myself. It was very frustrating. If I wanted a binder for school, or certain things on my Subway (sandwich), I just wanted to yell, ‘Why can’t you understand what I want?’ I’m still learning a couple new words every day and have a ‘Oh, that’s what that means!’ moments.”
While learning English was a steady process, learning to run the Wildcat-way was far more harsh, not to mention painful.
“They took it easy in school the first year, but running - never easy,” said the life science major. “I was so tired from workouts. I was so sore I couldn’t move; couldn’t get out of bed.”
Easing that pain, however, was the fact that Tresch’s times were improving, improving some more, and improving even more as she became one of the leading steeplechase runners nationally, and one of the Big 12’s best cross country runners.
Tresch ran fifth at the Big 12 Indoor last year in the 3000 and 18th in the 5000. She ran third in the Big 12 Outdoor steeplechase, 10th at the NCAAs and fifth in the European Under-23 Championships with a Switzerland national record and all-time K-State mark of 9:51.96.
That marked over a one-minute improvement since her arrival at K-State two-plus years ago.
“Amazed,” Tresch says of her own success. “I was finally training with so many good competitors and I kept getting better. Coach (Mike Smith) kept telling me what I could do if my mind was in the right place, but I didn’t believe him until I saw myself getting better, and having so much fun running. Several times I caught myself just saying, ‘Wow!’ ”
“Never could she have done this (racing times) at home. Not half this good,” said Katharina, who lived in Idaho – “The potato state,” she says with a smile – at the age of 17 as a foreign exchange student.
Tresch currently ranks No 1 in the steeplechase in her home country, but is shy of the Olympic “B” standard of 9:48 and “A” standard of 9:42 that would qualify her for the Olympic Games.
“A dream,” Tresch admits of being an Olympian.
A dream that started when Tresch’s bicycle broke down when she was a 7-year-old.
“I was on my bicycle and just told her to see if she could run a little to see if she could keep up with me,” said Tresch’s mother. “If she couldn’t (keep up), I was going to push my bike, but she ran, and ran, and ran. She ran about 1.8K without stopping. Being a kindergarten teacher, I knew this wasn’t normal. I thought she might be a natural.”
Martina was soon enrolled in a track club “…to occupy my time,” quips Martina, and the making of a star was born. By her high school days, she finished third in the 1,500 at the Swiss National Championship, and runner-up in the 5,000.
While ranking No. 1 in her home country, Tresch is amazed at the recognition she receives as a Wildcat.
At K-State, she says, “People are so excited and you’re respected for what you’re doing and you’re recognized for your work. At home it’s more, ‘What are you doing that for? You’re wasting your time.’ ”
Now, life is not perfect in the USA. Tresch laughs as she says, “The chocolate here is not as good as back home.” But she adds, “I’ve grown to love the barbeque here. (Laughing) Even runners need their protein.”
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