Rising Up

April 8, 2003

by Nicholas Schenck

From a very young age, there was something a little different about USC's 6-4 All-American high jumper, Dawid Jaworski. While some little kids played with toys, and others played sports, Dawid liked to jump over things. We're not talking about legos, either.

'I jumped over furniture when I was young,' said Dawid.

Incredibly enough, the objects that Dawid jumped over as a kid were not limited to household furnishings.

When he was 11 years old, Dawid accompanied his father to a busy outdoor food market after school one day. After getting lost in the crowd, Dawid ran across a street to find his dad without looking for oncoming traffic. Suddenly, as a car was about to hit him, Dawid leaped over the entire vehicle without getting touched.

'My father could not stop laughing,' said Dawid. 'He could not believe what he saw.'

To the delight of USC's track coaches, Dawid has stopped jumping over furniture and started jumping over seven-foot bars. He has also learned to look both ways before crossing the street on his way to becoming one of the NCAA's top high jumpers.

Unlike many top athletes that have honed their athletic prowess from a very young age, Dawid was a relatively late bloomer.

Growing up in Gorzow, Poland, athletics were in his family's blood. But even though his father, Leszek, was a professional handballer, and his brother, Rafal, was a star goalkeeper, Dawid never became heavily involved in sports.

That changed when Dawid was 16 years old and his friend drew him to track and field.

When Dawid was walking past the local track one day, he saw his friend, Alexandra Deren, training with her track and field club. The more he watched her, the more curious he became about the sport. He talked with some of the coaches from the club and then decided to give the high jump a try.

Following a few months of training with the club, Dawid won the 1995 Polish Junior National Championships in the high jump.

'I surprised my coach, friends, everyone,' said Dawid. 'It was my first (track) competition. After that, I was asked to join the (Polish) national track team.'

After representing Poland in track meets all around Europe for a couple of years, Dawid heard that Alexandra was studying at USC and also competing on the track and field team. Wanting to take his track abilities to the next level, Dawid looked into becoming a Trojan.

'I talked with (Alexandra) and then she told the (USC) track coaches about me,' said Dawid. 'The coaches then called me to see if I wanted to apply (to USC) and be on the track team.'

A year later, in the fall of 2001, Dawid made the biggest jump of his life when he traveled nearly 6,000 miles to Los Angeles for the first time. With all of the glitz and glamour that Los Angeles is known around the world for, Dawid was most awestruck by Los Angeles' huge multi-lane freeways.

'I never saw such big roads before (in Poland),' said Dawid. 'There are five-lane highways (in the U.S.). I couldn't believe what I saw. In Poland, the government is still developing roads after (the fall) of communism (in 1989).'

Although it took a little while for Dawid to adjust to American culture, he made himself right at home on the track. In his first eight collegiate track meets, Dawid finished first on five occasions, placed second in two meets and third only once. He never jumped below seven feet.

'Since I have come to USC, my (high jump) performance has really improved,' said Dawid. '(At USC) I have jumped over seven feet a lot, while in Poland I only did that sometimes.'

Dawid credits his success on the track to the encouragement of USC's track coaches.

'(To do my best), I need coaches to encourage me a lot,' said Dawid. 'The coaches (at USC) don't give up on me and that makes me stronger.'

In only his second track season with the Trojans, Dawid led USC to an eleventh place finish in the 2002 NCAA Track and Field Championships with a school-record-tying high jump of 7-4 �.

That performance placed Dawid second in the nation.

Although he is happy with his personal-best high jump at the NCAA Championships, Dawid has loftier goals this season.

'Of course I would like to win the NCAA Championships,' said Dawid, one of five returning All-Americans on USC's track team.

He has also set his sights on the 2004 Olympics in Greece. Dawid only needs to increase his personal-best high jump by three centimeters in order to qualify for the Polish Olympic Team.

Dawid said: 'The Olympics is the most important competition in the world. It is my dream to make the next Olympics in Greece (in 2004).'

With his amazing jumping ability, one may wonder if Dawid has ever used that talent on the basketball court. In Poland, his track coaches discouraged him from playing basketball because of the risk of injury. Upon arriving at USC, though, Dawid threw caution to the wind and dunked for the first time at the Lyon Center, the campus student gymnasium.

'Dunking is kind of like high-jump practice,' said Dawid. 'The basket is like the bar (in the high jump). I have to watch out not to hit the basket (when I dunk).'

When he is not training at Cromwell Field, or worrying about hitting his head on the rim at the Lyon Center, Dawid enjoys experiencing what Los Angeles has to offer. Dawid often spends his weekend afternoons on Metro buses exploring the different parts of Los Angeles.

Since the change of scenery two years ago, Dawid has become quite comfortable with life in Southern California. Even though this is his last track season at USC, Dawid has no plans to leave anytime soon.

'I love it here,' said Dawid. 'Los Angeles just works for me. The weather is beautiful. I feel good here.'

As long as Dawid is feeling good, Trojan track coaches and fans should be feeling just fine, too.

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