When Wikotria Samula packed her bags in Europe to move nearly 5,600 miles across the globe, she didn't speak any English. Fast forward two years later, the Poland native said Reno, which is similar to her hometown of Lubin, feels like home.
During Samula's freshman year, she set a school record at the Mountain West Championships in the 100-meter breaststroke and matched that success during her sophomore year when she won three medals at the conference championships, including silver in the 200 breast and 800 free relay and bronze in the 400 medley relay. Samula ranks top three in school history in five events, including second in the 100 and 200 breaststroke. Along with teammate Donna dePolo, Samula is one of the MW's top breaststroke swimmers.
In the Wolf Pack's first meet of the season this year against UNLV, she took home first place in the 100 breast and second place in the 200 breast as she continues to build off last season's success. As a result, Samula is Nevada Sports Net's Wolf Pack Athlete of the Month for January, an honor presented in partnership with Champion Chevrolet.
You can watch our full interview with Samula below, or check out our Q&A underneath that.
Q&A with Wiktoria Samula
What was it like to get back into the water again and compete?
Wiktoria Samula: "I can say it wasn’t easy for me. We had a long break and I was at home for about two months, so I practiced and could compete there so I think that helped me a lot. But I’m still not feeling good with that. Sometimes I feel like a stranger in the water because that’s so complicated for me, but I feel like that wasn’t my best events. I’m glad I could take first place."
What lured you to Reno? When did you first hear about the university and what made you say, "I want to move halfway across the globe to come swim for the Wolf Pack?"
WS: "It’s because of my best friend (Julia Adamczyk) and because of our Coach Brendon (Bray). He emailed her and she was very happy and she told me she was going to study in the USA. I was too scared because my English sucks and I couldn’t speak anything. But when she asked Brendon about me, he said, 'She is a really good breaststroker,' and he asked me if I wanted to join the team, too. My friend came here like one semester before, and I’m just appreciative of her. Now we live together, so we’re more like sisters because we’ve known each other for like 10 years. We went to junior and high school together."
What were your first thoughts of Nevada? What did you think of Reno and the West Coast?
WS: "Everything was new for me, but Reno is very similar to my hometown. The first year was really hard for me when I couldn’t speak any English or understand. I wasn’t alone, so that was good for me. But now I know my team and my teammates were really nice to me so I just felt like I was at home. The city is very similar to my hometown."
What’s the thing you love most about your hometown and being able to go back home?
WS: "I have a good team there and my teammates from my hometown also study in the USA, so we always go back at the same times, so that’s nice so we can compete there and spend time together. So I think that’s the best thing for us so we can keep our friendship."
Why swimming? When did you start swimming and what made you get into the sport?
WS: "Oh, I don’t know. We don’t have sports, really. When I was, like, 5 years old, I went to the pool with my dad. He taught me how to swim, and I think the coach looked and asked me if I wanted to join his team, so I said, 'Why not?' I was everywhere. I couldn’t stand in one place, so I just started to swim. Also because of my best friends, The other one from Poland (Nevada teammate Julia Adamczyk), we went to school together for 14 years and practiced together, but I think because of the people. I just wanted to go to the pool to meet them, so I stuck to swimming. I feel really good in the water. It’s funny because sometimes I’m not thinking about swimming when I’m doing that. I’m just in the water.
How beneficial has it been to have Donna (dePolo) to train against? Knowing that if you're going to win a Mountain West gold, you’re probably going to have to beat her, so just to kind of learn things from her and she learns some things as well from you?
WS: "I really enjoy that. Even though we are in the water, but we are friends in our lives. I feel like we motivate each other, so before this meet we had a deal, like, 'I win the 100 and she wins the 200 race,' and we did that. When we are in dual meets, it doesn’t matter who will win. We always focus to be in first and second place, but in conference, that’s nice when we can compete together and one of us will win."
How do you think you’ve grown as a person and a swimmer from when you first came to Nevada until now?
WS: "I feel like I’ve grown a lot. I’ve improved my time every year, so that’s made me a better swimmer and stronger. We practice a lot of the weights and in the pool, so thanks to Brendon, I can improve my details and technique, so I’m really glad of that. I think I’m more stronger and I’m more open to people because I was so scared. I didn’t talk to anybody. When I came to the pool, for the first month I was like, 'Please don’t ask me anything, don’t talk to me,' because I didn’t understand that. But now, I feel like this is my home and I want to stay here longer."
There are girls from eight countries on your roster. You used to live with one from Mexico, Isa Lopez, who was your roommate. Is there a food you’ve been introduced to from one of your teammates from a different country or even here in America that you’ve really enjoyed?
WS: "I’m not a big fan of American food, but I love barbeque here. Ribs are my favorite. I live with my best friend and she's also from Poland, so we try to cook together Polish dishes."
What is your favorite Polish dish?
WS: "Perogies are my favorite. Or schnitzel. I love that, too."
Are there any Polish restaurants in Reno?
WS: "No, but we found a European store so we can buy sausage, bacon from Poland, which is also different from here, so we were happy about that."
So when you came back from your Christmas break in Poland, were you smuggling a lot of food from your country back here?
WS: "Yeah. We always buy some groceries and bring them here. Our suitcase only includes food and cosmetics, no clothes because we just leave our clothes here so we don't need to bring them back and forth."
You’re majoring in International business and finance. What made you choose that when you got here?
WS: "I wanted to be a finance major, but I’m not sure if I wanted to stay in the USA to work. It’s kind of different in Europe than here, especially being a finance major, so I decided to take international business and focus on finance and do a double major. It’s also easier, too, because I met a Polish guy who is studying business, and he told me if I want to take international business I don’t need to take another language because they can accept my Polish. So I thought that would be easier for me to double major, and I love finance."
For previous Wolf Pack Athletes of the Month Q&As, click here.