Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Freshman distance runner Natalja Piliusina came to OSU from Klaipeda, Lithuania after a two-day visit to the Stillwater, Okla. campus last fall, and the coaches are glad she did.
Piliusina has broken on to the collegiate track scene with force this year with nationally ranked times in the 800 meter and mile race.
She won the 800 meter at the Indoor Big 12 Championship and she also helped the OSU women's distance medley relay team to a Big 12 Championship and a fifth place finish at the NCAAs.
Although she has had success her first year, it was a big decision for her to come to OSU in the first place.
"It took a while for me to decide to come to America," Piliusina said. "I was recruited by many schools, but after I graduated from high school I decided to stay home and to go to school over there.
"After that OSU was still recruiting me and they offered me just to come and visit the school. I really liked everything. It was something that I didn't have home. I used to run by myself all the time and I knew that running with a group can help me to improve a lot."
Collegiate track was new for Piliusina because in Lithuania they do not compete in school-related sporting events.
"Usually you just run for your club or city," Piliusina said. "Running for your school feels really good, especially when you have that bright orange jersey on you."
During her time in Lithuania, Piliusina competed in international races. She is currently the junior record holder in the 1,500 meters. She took fifth at the 2009 European under-20 championships in Serbia and was eighth in the 800 meters at the world youth championships in 2008.
Even though she isn't competing internationally while in college, the races still feel the same.
"I think there is not that much of a difference between running international races and running in college," Piliusina said. "In NCAAs there are many internationals as well, some of the girls I already ran against in Europeans and Worlds before."
While the races may not be the different, her school work is. In Lithuania, she attended Azuolynas Gymnasium.
"Attending gymnasium you have a very strict schedule," Piliusina said. "You can't change anything about that. And going to college you have more choices. You can take as many classes as you think is enough that semester. Back home I would spend around seven to eight hours in school every day. Here I don't spend that much time in school so I can concentrate on my running more."
There are many differences between Lithuania and America. One example is the particular attention paid to one of America's favorite sports.
"All kind of sports are very important over here, but at home it seems that people care only about basketball," Piliusina said.
One of the differences that affected Piliusina the most was the change in weather.
"The first few days after I came over here I couldn't even run without stopping because it was so hot and humid for me," Piliusina said.
She eventually acclimated to the weather and it obviously paid off after winning two Big 12 Championship events in her first indoor season.
"In Big 12s I ran the 800 prelims a day before and then I ran 800 finals next day," Piliusina said. "The race wasn't that fast for me but still I had two races. I felt a bit tired before the DMR but I didn't run just for myself. It pumped me up before the race."
OSU started their outdoor season last week and even though the track is different, Piliusina says her training will stay the same.
"I don't think that I will do anything different than I was doing before," Piliusina said. "It worked really well for me so I don't see what I could change. When it comes to the practices I rely on Coach Dave Smith 100 percent. He is an amazing coach so I leave all the workouts for him."