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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Performing major art

By Tony Pizza

When Ute gymnast Daria Bijak arrived at the U campus after successfully defending her German national All-Around championship in September, she looked a little bit like a deer caught in headlights. Three 24-hour transatlantic trips tend to have that effect on a person.

The more precise cause for Bijak’s moderate stupor was the fact that she was just thrust into a new environment and expected to speak a completely foreign language for the first time in her life. Fast-forward to the present and it’s hard to believe Bijak only moved to the United States six months ago from Cologne, Germany.

Except for her mild, but very understandable accent, Bijak would have no problem passing as an American. Despite making the transition look so easy, she admits it was tough at first-and understandably so. Although Bijak took English classes before moving to Salt Lake City, the difficulties all college students face were compounded by the fact that she has basically been learning English on the fly.

For Bijak, adjusting to American culture hasn’t been quite the same challenge. Still, she does admit that she has had her fair share of culture-shock moments.

“When I meet people, they’re like, ‘I love you, I love you’ and I’m like, ‘You don’t even know me,'” Bijak said with a laugh. “Everyone’s like, ‘That’s my friend and that’s my friend,’ and it’s not like that in Germany.”

Gymnastics has been the one thing that has been an easy transition for the U freshman.

On the national and international gymnastics scene, gymnasts are required to put together routines that can be twice or even three times as long as a normal collegiate routine. For Bijak, this has made the shift to collegiate gymnastics a relatively smooth trip.

“On beam, it’s not even half of my (national) routine,” Bijak said. “I have to do four more skills in my elite routine.”

Now the only thing holding Bijak back is her steady string of injuries.

Besides suffering from recurring shoulder tendonitis and Achilles soreness, Bijak is still recovering from the knee surgery she underwent once she returned from the World Championships at the end of October.

“I know what I did last year and the year before, and I’m not there,” Bijak said. “Health-wise, I’m about 100 percent. Skill-wise, I’m about 90 percent. There’s a lot more I can do for the team.”

Those diminished skills haven’t stopped Bijak from being a big contributor on the U gymnastics team, though. Against Florida, Bijak nailed her beam routine and scored a 9.9 out of the second spot in the lineup, which is rare only because scores that high are usually reserved for solid performances later in the rotation.

Bijak has also found positives outside the gym, as well. Having close friends on a gymnastics team was something Bijak had never grown up with in Germany, but at the U, the story is completely different.

“I get along with (my team). There’s not anyone I can’t stand,” Bijak said. “In Germany with the national team, I don’t really get along with the girls. It’s really great to be on a team with friends.”

With things seemingly destined to fall into place for Bijak from the beginning, it’s hard to imagine it took so long for Bijak to finally make the decision to come to Utah.

“When I came on my official visit last year?I was like, ‘No, I can’t do that,'” Bijak said. “It wasn’t the team?but Salt Lake City compared to Cologne was like nothing to party, but I was like, ‘I can try it.'”

In the end, Bijak decided that she wanted to “become an actress” and coming to the U and studying performing arts would help her fulfill that cause. But just to keep her options open, Bijak also decided to make a serious attempt to become a performer in “Cirque du Soliel.”

The day after Bijak made the commitment to Utah, she got a call from the theatrical circus company saying she got the job. The decision to become a Red Rock basically boiled down to Bijak’s deciding that she would probably be able to join “Cirque du Soliel” after the competing at the U, but the opposite would likely not be feasible.

“I know I can do my education now?and the ‘Cirque’ later,” Bijak said. “If I decided to do gymnastics later, I’d be even older and I’m already old.”

Bijak doesn’t regret the decision, either. She enjoys her teammates, she enjoys studying performing arts and, most of all, she has found plenty of reasons to feel good about calling Utah home.

Salt Lake City may not have the bustling social scene Cologne offers, but the fans filling the Huntsman Center have tried to make it a party for Bijak when the Red Rocks compete at home.

“We don’t have many spectators at German Championships,” Bijak said. “I like to compete in front of the big crowds?that’s why I like it here.”

Whether it’s in a costume or a leotard, for someone who loves performing as much as Bijak, she’ll take a standing ovation wherever she can get it.

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