Written by Maggie Samples // Photo by Balazs Balassa
Three Ukrainian athletes joined the Harding track and field team this semester to train together, making a positive impact on the team’s culture.
Freshmen Vladyslav Malykhin, Anton Kopytko and Karyna Vegner were friends before coming to Harding and wanted to join a team together.
Don Hood, coach of the Harding track and field team, said a friend of his who helps him find international athletes interested in coming to Harding mentioned the three friends.
“They’re very talented athletes,” Hood said. “But because of the war situation there, they really can’t train. They can’t do anything like they need to. And so they were wanting to find someplace where they could go that they know of. They all know each other and are good friends and have relationships with each other. They wanted to go as a package deal.”
Hood said international athlete recruitment often can look promising but for a variety of reasons can fall through. But Malykhin, Kopytko and Vegner knew of other European athletes at Harding and felt confident that they would be taken care of at the University.
“So we got three phenomenal athletes to come in,” Hood said. “What I didn’t know was their personalities: Would they be spoiled elite athletes, or would they come in and jump into the team and really help us? And I’ve been thrilled. They are very appreciative of the kindness of the people here.”
Hood said he has high hopes for the track and field season and that the team is working to build a strong training foundation for the stretch of the season.
“We don’t really have a home season,” Hood said. “We can’t sell season tickets and that kind of thing. But we are going to host three track meets here this spring at our new facility, and I hope the students and the faculty will come see these kids do what they’re good at.”
Vegner said track is crucial to her character and development and she cannot live without the sport.
“Sport develops everything in a person,” Vegner said. “The most important thing for me is confidence, character, leadership.”
Malykhin also said track is very important to him and that the sport is his life.
“Going to Harding was a very good chance for athletes from Ukraine,” Malykhin said. “It was hard to pass the TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language] test as my English is not so good.”
Both students said they wanted the Harding community to keep Ukraine and the war there in mind. Vegner said understanding the war and its tragedies is key to understanding the history of these students.
“This is a story about Ukraine and how the Ukrainian people suffer from the war with [Russia],” Malykhin said.