This summer, freshman Sally Nyaggah traveled to China to represent the United States in track and field competition. She competed against international athletes and gained an understanding of the way of life on the other side of the world.
Nyaggah began her high school athletic career at El Dorado High School in Placentia, Calif. After a promising performance as a freshman, a knee injury put her on the sidelines for much of the following year.
She started running again her junior year after making the move to Pacific Christian School in SeaTac, Wash. As the only girl on the small team, Nyaggah had to set her own goals and challenge herself. She has competed at the state level in both cross country and track.
As a result of her successful high school performance, she received an invitation from the USA Track and Field Organization to participate in the overseas trip.
"They asked me if I wanted to run to represent the United States in Hong Kong and Canton," Nyaggah said.
It took a bit of fundraising, but the group left for Hong Kong near the end of June. The vastly different climate and culture came as quite a shock.
"The first day we got there I thought it was very humid and very, very hot," she said.
She and her teammates were forced to adjust quickly. Little time was wasted before beginning the action.
"When we got there, and went to our hotel, we went sightseeing for a bit, then we went to our first meet," Nyaggah said. "The first meet was a national track meet where they had other teams like Taiwan and local Hong Kong teams. It was all over national television."
Nyaggah soon found a surprise regarding her overseas competition. While she and her teammates were high school students, the same was not true of the local contenders.
"Most of the athletes that I raced against were older, some were my age but some were older, in their 20s. The athletes there just train, all they do is train," Nyaggah said. Even against such differences in age and background, she managed to place in the middle of the pack in the 1500m and 4x400m relay.
After four days of shopping and sightseeing in Hong Kong, they were off to China. At their next track meet, drenched with rain, they encountered competition similar to that they had faced in Hong Kong.
"We got whooped pretty bad, these guys were really good," admitted Nyaggah. "It seemed as if they were just practicing while we were trying our best."
She soon found that athletics are structured much differently in Asia. Nyaggah learned about their system while talking to a local coach with the help of an interpreter.
"They basically dedicate their lives to their sport," she said. "Their university is basically a sport university where they focus more on sports, but a little on education . . . It’s more for the honor if you’re the best."
After their second and last meet, the sightseeing and tourist activities continued.
"After the meet we just kept on shopping and shopping and shopping," Nyaggah said. And then we went to a banquet in China and there they were serving like a 24-course meal, where they had little portions of different types of food. To respect their culture you had to basically eat everything they set out."
Nyaggah was very surprised by the local food selection. Foods she sampled included pig skin and octopus. She also visited a market in China, where the presence of kittens for sale as intended meals particularly caught her off guard. Other culinary selections available for
sale were frogs, scorpions, octopus, eels, turtles, maggots and mountain rats. One team member did become sick, presumably as a result of the food. The next morning the team began the journey back to America.
Nyaggah is currently participating in cross country and will turn out for track as well. She finds it "totally different than high school," but looks forward to contributing to teams she believes can do very well.
Reflecting on her trip, she commented "One thing that I would want to tell people is that if they ever get a chance to go to another country, I’d encourage them to do it, because you learn a whole lot more about people’s cultures, and how people really are. You’re taken out of your comfort zone and put into a different society that you’re not used to, and you have to learn how to adapt to it and accept it."
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Title: Runner represents U.S. in Asia | Author: Tom Mattausch | Section: Sports | Published Date: 1999-10-27 | Internal ID: 843