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Running, religion give Cselovszki a road out of Hungary

Sleepy Eye Public School Superintendent John Cselovszki grew up in Hungary before the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the rest of the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980s

April 25, 2010
Story and photos by Fritz Busch

In the second grade in Communist Hungary, John Cselovszki discovered he had exceptional distance running ability, outrunning just about everyone in 1.5 mile runs.

He was urged to join track and soccer clubs and excelled at both.

As a seventh-grader, he ran a mile in under six minutes in practice.

Article Photos

The Cselovszki family, from left, McKenzie, Becky, Cassie, John and Tia.

His running ability translated to soccer, helping him earn a spot on a national team.

At age 15, he ran a half mile in 1:56 and made the national track and field team.

Cselovszki raced for the national team in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Austria.

Taking part in a political protest against the Communist government, he fled the team after a 1987 track meet in Austria with just a few dollars in his pocket.

"I was excited to get out of Hungary and make a new life for myself," Cselovszki said.

He spent 17 months in a refugee camp with people from many politically-repressive countries in a military post formerly housed by the Russian Army near Vienna, Austria.

Given a spoon, fork, dish, blanket and bunk bed, he lived with refugees from Iraq, Iran and Eastern Bloc countries.

"We could do odd jobs like digging ditches, cleaning or working in a kitchen if the right people thought we looked like we could do it," he added. "It was just before (Ronald) Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Arms Reduction Treaty."

Cselovszki said he read the Bible while living in the refugee camp.

"Overall, we got along pretty well there," he said. "Refugees could go to the U.S., Canada and Australia."

The World Council of Churches, a fellowship of 349 churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service in more than 110 countries and territories around the world found a place for Cselovszki in the United States.

An Episcopal Church in Watertown, S.D. sponsored him to come to America. The South Dakota State University (SDSU) cross country coach went for a seven-mile run with him and invited him to run with the team.

Cselovszki rented an apartment in Brookings and worked at Burger King and at construction and assembly jobs before college began.

"I was overweight and out of shape, but the coach told me to lose weight and I would get an athletic scholarship and college grants," he added.

Cselovszki's teammates included New Ulm High School graduate Seth Peterson.

Cselovszki competed for SDSU in a number of large track meets including the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa and the Howard Wood Relays in Sioux Falls, S.D.

At SDSU, where he majored in education and geography with a German minor, Cselovszki's best 800 meter time was 1:53. He ran a 4:10 mile.

"Running really helped get me to where I am," he added. "I had some great friendships with runners. My roommate and I just ran and ran and ran, pushing each other."

His interval (speed) training workouts included training as challenging as running 25 400-meter intervals with minute jogs in between each 400.

Prior to coming to Sleepy Eye last year, Cselovszki was superintendent, coach and taught some classes at Sioux Valley-Round Lake-Brewster Schools.

Prior to that, he taught social studies, history, geography and German classes in Walker and Caledonia.

His wife Becky is superintendent at Southwest Star Concept High School in Okabena.



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