By DeAngelo Berry
KINGSTON, R.I. - Track and field carries people across the globe, and that is why Rhode Island junior pole vaulter Ondrej Honka is headed to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Honka - the first URI student to hail from the Czech Republic - will be volunteering at Olympics this summer. Honka entered into a lengthy online selection process where he was one of 50,000 accepted volunteers out of the 250,000 total applicants.
Honka will be working at the Olympic Stadium with the soccer and track & field athletes. He will be one of the supervisors tasked with tracking the scoring system and results of each of these Olympic events.
"It's a once in a lifetime experience," Honka said. "I got lucky, working with track & field was my first option."
Honka believes that his diverse background international experience aided him in the selection process. The Olympic Games boast one of the greatest melting pots of cultural exchange, something he is familiar with. Honka is trilingual, fluent in German, English, and his native Czech. In addition to competing abroad at Rhody, Honka was a member of the first youth Olympic Games in Singapore.
This selection is one of Honka's many accomplishments both academically and athletically. During the outdoor season, he just missed qualifying for the national championship in the pole vault, placing 13th out of 48 at the NCAA East Preliminaries. Including this season, Honka is a two-time pole vault champion and one-time heptathlon champion in the Atlantic 10, as well as a two-time New England champion in the pole vault. He maintains a 3.88 grade-point average in Supply Chain Management and earned All-Academic honors from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association for the 2015-2016 season and was selected to the A-10 Academic All-Conference Team during the outdoor season.
Knowing that he is the first student-athlete at URI from the Czech Republic gives Honka extra motivation to compete well and to integrate with the students.
"It was a huge honor when I first found out," Honka said. "I try to represent my country well and breakdown any stigmas that people might have about us. I want to show that we are very hard working and not that different from Americans."
Honka has come to enjoy his new family at Rhody, but his initial transition was not an easy one. As a freshman, he had difficulty keeping up with the pace of the English that his classmates and professors spoke, learning only the basics at home.
The differences in customs took time for Honka to adjust to. For instance, he was not an avid social media user like the majority of his American classmates, but is now "basically using everything (with social media sites)."
He also noted that having his own car in America was a unique experience because families in the Czech would often share vehicles.
Despite the many cultural barriers, Honka has completed three successful years of coursework and international competition. This summer Honka will be living out his dreams in Rio.
"One of the biggest reasons why I applied to be a volunteer was because, as an athlete, everyone dreams of going to the Olympics," Honka said. "If I can't compete there as an athlete, then this opportunity as a volunteer will be my way to be a part of the Olympic experience."
Honka to Volunteer In Rio For 2016 Olympics
By DeAngelo Berry