Aufgeben. The German verb “to quit” is one that international student and Samo junior Eva-Maria Unger never uses.
Unger, a triathlete from Vienna, recalls her first triathlon vividly.
“It was so hard and I was so scared because I knew the person behind and in front was so strong. Towards the finish I tried to get all my energy together to catch up to the other athlete. I was so proud when I saw that I had crossed the line first,” Unger said.
Unger came to the United States on Jan. 20 of last year to improve her English and Spanish and to pursue her passion; competing in triathlons (swimming, running and biking). She is currently training with Team Santa Monica (TSM), a club swim team that meets at Santa Monica College.
“I thought that this would be a new challenge and a good opportunity for me to try. I also came [to the U.S.] because the sports offered are really fantastic,” Unger said.
Unger has also had to adapt to a new schedule in the states. On top of school, Unger has swim training everyday except Sunday. Unger’s swim practices are almost always preceded by dry-land training, in which she bikes for two hours and runs for 45 to 90 minutes.
This schedule doesn’t even compare to her jam-packed schedule in Austria, where she attended a school near the Hertha Finnberg School for Tourism and Economy. There, she would be in school from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., studying 19 subjects as well as training and completing homework.
Triathlons are a family business; Unger’s sister, Lisa-Sophie Unger is also a triathlete who aspires to emulate her sister’s successes.
“She is a very ambitious athlete and takes the sport very seriously. She is so strong and wins so often. I sometimes wish that I could have the same ambition as my sister,” Lisa-Sophie Unger said.
Brian Timmerman, Unger’s TSM coach agrees that Unger is a skilled athlete. However, he recognizes the challenges of being a newcomer to the states.
“She is a great athlete, strong and agile. I think it’s amazing that she chose to come to Santa Monica to study and train for swimming and triathlon. I hope it goes well for her. Being so far from family and friends can be a difficult situation for a teenager,” Timmerman said.
In 2009 and 2010, Unger won the Austrian Championship in Aquathlon (swimming and running) and Triathlon. She followed these successes in 2011 by winning the Junior Title in the Europameisterin Aquathlon event (European Champion in Aquathlon) where she swam a 1k and ran a 5k.
“The successes are nice, but I just do it because I love to. I don’t know how long I will practice it and what my future will look like, but for me it is important to do any sport next to my school. I’m sure that it would be nice to do the hobby as a career, but first I will concentrate on my education and then I will see where the future takes me, ” Unger said.
However, it is not all about athletics for Unger. Unger also enjoys spending time in nature and going to movies. She is a fan of romantic comedies, but also loves a good thriller.
For the moment, Unger is working hard to adapt to her new environment and the everyday challenges of being a stranger in a foreign land.
“It is challenging to do everything on my own and not know that somebody can help me out of something if I have any problems. The school here is no problem because in Austria it is really more challenging so it is an easy thing for me to handle. However, it is nerve wracking if I can’t find the correct words to explain something. Sometimes I only want to speak in German!” Unger said.
But doing so would mean quitting, and that is not a word in Unger’s English or German vocabularies.