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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

International Runners Add Variety to Tigers

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Mansfield has a unique blend of international runners mixing well with their home grown Arkansas talent. From Germany, Sweden, and Ukraine are three likable athletes that have added flavor to the red borscht that is Mansfield cross country.

Borscht, a traditional Ukrainian soup that can be made of beets, pork, and assorted vegetables, seems oddly appropriate given the new melting pot of players now running for Mansfield.

Artem Zirka of Kyiv, Ukraine, Anina Reutter of Stuttgart, Germany, and Josefin Lofving of Gothenburg, Sweden sweeten the pot know as Mansfield cross country.

Zirka lets it be known, he prefers his family’s home cooking. His go to meal is that unique sounding bowl of borscht or a cup of porridge. 

After a particular high mileage day of cross country running, Zirka like most runners builds an appetite. Unfortunately for him, a Big-Mac and fries are among the limited menu selections at most Mansfield racing stops. Borscht bowls are few and far between.

Nonetheless, Zirka and his two international teammates make do with the meals as well as the rest of American culture. With Reutter and Lofving, the international trio run for Mansfield’s long distance team this season.

“I like American schools very well,” said Zirka after a recent 5K race in Acorn. “Everyone is smiling. You can say hello and people are so friendly. After school sports, really everything about the school, is nice except maybe the lunches.”

Zirka runs for the senior men’s team. Reutter and Lofving participate with the senior women’s squad.

“There are no sports in school where I come from,” said Reutter. “We have like PE. You can play some sports after school. I play tennis and like to swim.”

Lofving has a similar story to share as she explains the lack of school sports in her native Sweden.

“We don’t have sports in school,” confirmed Lofving. “But, I like horses. I ride horses. English horse riding and gate jumping is what I do. I also snow ski.”

For now, the three new students have found cross country to be an interesting addition to their school schedule and American life.

“It was the third day of school and these three heard the announcement about joining cross country,” explained John Mackey, Mansfield’s head coach. “They came together and said they wanted to join. It has been a good fit so far. I’ve enjoyed seeing them progress and becoming a valuable part of our team.”

Despite their varied backgrounds, the three have become instant friends. Likewise, they have become quite close to their new American teammates.

“Josefin told me that she and Anina met in New York before they knew they were coming to Mansfield,” stated Mackey. “After they got here, all three students ended up being neighbors on the same street in Mansfield. Fate formed their friendship.

Each of the exchange students have their own interests with Anina favoring tennis, Josefin preferring English horse riding, and Artem enjoying soccer. They also have some commonalities. Most of which include a proficiency in multiple languages.

Anina’s mother is from Norway. Her father is from Germany. Consequently, she is fluent in Norwegian and German speech as well as English.

Josefin speaks Swedish and English. She has some knowledge of Norwegian as her home country of Sweden borders Norway.

Artem is comfortable with Ukrainian, Russian, and English languages. He is also learning Czech. According to the Ukrainian citizen, he can go to Czech Republic University for free if he speaks Czech.

For their likes and differences, the international students fit easily into the routine of Mansfield athletics. Friends on both sides “of the pond” have come into their lives since landing in this country.

“It is our good fortune to have such well-adjusted, intelligent, and athletic kids join our school,” expressed Mackey. “We may not serve borscht, but we can certainly throw together some deer chili. These are good kids from which our home grown players can learn. I think the reverse of that is also true.”

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