Campus News

Getting to know the first female Pilot to win NAIA individual national championship

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Danielle Wojciechowski loves to fall. More specifically, she enjoys sports that involve some high-flying antics--be it diving, skydiving (which she hasn’t tried but wants to someday) or what she’s become best known for on campus, pole-vaulting. She’s not half bad at flying up and over on the track field.  Wojciechowski recently became the first female Pilot track and field member to win an NAIA Individual National Championship, vaulting a height of 3.82 meters (12.53 feet), according to the Pilots' official website. In addition to her title, she’s reset the Pilot pole-vaulting record three times since transferring in this year, also according to the website. But enough about the numbers. Who’s the woman behind the vaulter? Wojciechowski, a sophomore physical and health education major, is from Roselle, Ill., a suburb northwest of Chicago. Wojciechowski described it as not a small town, but still having some of the environment of a town that has a tight-knit community. “It’s not necessarily a small town,” she said, “but I’ve been going to school with the same (people) since I was in kindergarten, all the way through high school. It’s kind of like one of those towns where everyone kind of knows everyone.” That “small town” feel means that Wojciechowski knows and is known by many in her town. “It’s been really great,” she said, “I have tons of family friends, so tons of families around the neighborhood that know me personally and…in a way, kind of helped my parents raise me. I’ve been raised by kind of a whole town rather than just my own family, so that’s been super great. I grew up in a great church that was super involved in my life…it’s been a whole kind of group effort raising my generation, I guess. It’s been great.” Greatness isn’t achieved in a day. Wojciechowski has been involved in pole-vaulting since she was young. “Originally, I tried (pole-vaulting) at a summer camp when I was pretty young,” said Wojciechowski. “My parents got me and my sister both into track camps when we were little, and I tried it, but I was too young to actually compete in it, and then I got to high school. I was actually able to try it for real and actually able to compete in it.” At the camp, Wojciechowski’s coach asked for anyone with gymnastics experience to come forward and try out for pole-vaulting. Wojciechowski had been involved in tumbling and other gymnastics from a young age, and so she came up and “fell in love instantly.” Her mother put her and her sister into sports early, and Wojciechowski said she was an energetic child to begin with. “(I) loved somersaults and doing fun things like that, so my mom decided to put me into gymnastics and tumbling and just see how I did with it, and I turned out to be pretty good at it,” said Wojciechowski with a laugh. “It was super fun, and I did it for about eight years before I quit.” True to her penchant for high-flying athletic achievements, Wojciechowski was also a member of the dive team while in school, as well as a member of the swim team from age eight through high school during the summers. But Wojciechowski isn’t all about lofty athletics. She has a few boots-on-the-ground interests as well. “I actually own my own painting business,” she said, “I paint canvasses for fun. I’m really into drawing and photography, kind of artsy. Just kind of as a side hobby, though; I don’t really go too far with it. But I sell canvasses online.” Wojciechowski’s journey to the Pilots began at a completely different school: Olivet Nazarene University, where she attended with her sister Andrea. Wojciechowski transferred to Bethel after her freshman year at ONU after her coach, J.W. Maierle, came to coach at Bethel, his alma mater. “I actually followed him, because I enjoyed his coaching,” said Wojciechowski. “So I followed him, and then the academics seemed to line up better to what I wanted to do, so, it was an all-around good switch for me.” Maierle did some “major recruiting” for the track team. He and Wojciechowski knew each other from ONU, so Wojciechowski asked him if it was possible if she could follow him to the Pilots. “…so he pursued that a little, and kind of got me in touch with the head coach and got me on the team here,” said Wojciechowski. Wojciechowski also spoke a little bit about her journey to the championship. “I really had a rough freshman year when it came to pole-vaulting,” she said, “like I really wasn’t doing what I knew I was capable of, I was struggling a lot, competition-wise. And when I got (to Bethel), it was a whole different dynamic and different team feel, and I felt like I was being supported and more involved in the team…I felt like the hard work I was doing was actually paying off, so when I got to some of the bigger meets and was finally hitting those bigger heights, it was a huge relief…hard work was paying off and God was being good to me, I guess.” I asked Wojciechowski how she feels about her achievement. “It feels really great,” she said with a laugh, “to come into a new school with new coaches and everything changing and still be able to compete at the level I know I can and I know I want to. So, it feels really cool.” As for next year's plans, Wojciechowski made sure to mention that this year’s season isn’t over yet. Outdoor season starts the weekend of March 24. “I would like to win another national championship outdoor,” she said with a laugh. “I know that I have more potential, and I have the ability to hit those big heights, so I really want to do that.” But there’s more to an athlete than the height of her jumps in one championship. I asked Wojciechowski about her college career goals. “Ideally, I would like to hit heights big enough that I have the option to go pro after college,” she said. “I would like to be able to at least have the option to go pro if I want to, which I do want to.” Wojciechowski said she’s very happy with her decision to come to Bethel. “I’m just very happy on this team and I’m really glad that I transferred,” she concluded. “I guess it’s really great to see my hard work paying off, and I guess I can’t do anything but give the glory to God; it’s all Him and nothing else, I guess.
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