Victorious UBC coach returns to Poland for world championships
After leading UBC’s cross-country running team to a NAIA championship last November, head coach Marek Jedrzejek is off to the world championships this March where he hopes to steer Team Canada to a top ten finish.
Held in Poland, the Cross Country World Championships will take Jedrzejek back to the country in which he was born. It will also take him back to the city where he lived and worked before defecting in 1982, when Poland was under a Communist government and part of the Soviet Bloc.
“It was very unstable in Poland,” he explains. The government had instituted martial law in an attempt to crush political opposition and pro-democracy movements.
Jedrzejek was coaching Poland’s national team, competing against other countries in the Eastern Bloc. But in 1982, they went to the European Track and Field Championships in Athens. That’s where Jedrzejek made a beeline for the Canadian embassy and applied for refugee status.
Since 1989, when Poland made the shift away from communism to democracy, Jedrzejek has returned to the country many times.
“Almost every trip I go back, I visit my birthplace village,” he says. “I love to visit this place—the place where I grew up as a young kid, sport fields where I played soccer…the lake.”
During his last couple of trips to the small village of Glubczyn, he brought his two grandchildren, Kate and Cole. “It was a memorable feeling for me to show my grandkids the place where their roots come from.”
The World Championships will be held on March 24 in the city of Bydygoszcz, and Jedrzejek arrives with an impressive year behind him. Four UBC track and field athletes competed in the 2012 London Olympic Games. In November, the cross-country team won the women’s and combined U.S.-based National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) championship titles—the first time since joining the association in 2001. Jedrzejek is the first coach to win both Canadian and U.S. championships.
“The last few years we’ve been working really hard,” he says. A new facility—UBC’s Rashpal Dhillon Track and Field Oval, an all-weather track and grass field that was completed in 2009—and recent team successes have played a big role in recruiting some top-level athletes.
“The team is still quite young so for the next two years we should continue to be strong,” he says.
Two of UBC’s own cross-country athletes have made the national team—Maria Bernard and Luc Bruchet. At the NAIA championships, Bernard ran five kilometres in less than 18 minutes finishing fifth, and Bruchet completed an eight-kilometre course in just over 24 minutes, finishing third.
“It is comforting to have someone who is not only your university coach, but is also the national team coach be so familiar with international running,” says Bernard. “Marek’s experience and guidance are definitely something I value.”
Jedrzejek says his achievements have been hard-won. He arrived in Canada in 1983, speaking very little English and knowing no one. He spent a year in Penticton and then moved to Vancouver, volunteering as assistant coach for SFU’s track team. “I had to put myself on the map,” he says.
SFU’s track team made good progress and in 1986 he took part in a national coaching institute and earned his Canadian coaching certification. He was soon hired as the high performance running coach for Athletics Canada, a position based at UBC.
Jedrzejek has been here ever since, developing UBC’s track and field and cross-country teams for the past 25 years. This will be his eleventh outing as Canada’s head coach for the Cross Country World Championships. He also coached at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and three FISU (International University Sports Federation) Games.