Tomek Czerwinski takes the phrase “super senior” to a whole new level. In his last year on the men’s track and field team at Azusa Pacific University, his story of overcoming adversity and relentless perseverance sets him apart from the typical college athlete.
Czerwinski attended Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, California. He ran varsity track his freshman year and played varsity football his sophomore year. Athletics were a central part of his life.
“My sophomore year I was like [in the] top five in the county in the long jump and in both hurdles races. And then, my junior year, I was [in the] top three in the state in those three events,” Czerwinski said.
All this paints Czerwinski as the picture-perfect high school athlete, until he finishes his sentence with “ … and then I quit.”
Growing up in Ventura County did not always prove easy for Czerwinski.
“I basically got involved with the wrong crowd of people,” he said.
He ended up getting injured and often found himself in the middle of fights.
“I had scholarship offers to multiple Division I schools, and I just disappeared and stopped showing up. And I barely graduated high school,” Czerwinski recalled. “I completely lost interest. … I never stepped foot on a track again for like five more years.”
Czerwinski went through many of what he would call “incidents” in those five years. One day he woke up in a hospital bed after a fight that almost cost him his life. It was then he decided to make a change.
Watching Bryan Clay, a former APU track star, compete in the 2008 Olympics is what sparked Czerwinski’s desire to become a decathlete.
“I didn’t do anything about it for another year, year and a half. I just kinda, I don’t know, didn’t move on it. But then, I got a job and had a boss that dug into me about my goals,” Czerwinski said.
His boss got after him to contact the community colleges in the area to speak with the coaches, and the athlete did as he was told.
In 2011, he enrolled at Ventura College to compete on the track team. Unfortunately, one month into practice, another struggle stopped Czerwinski in his tracks. Two of his best friends from home died and his track career went on hold due to a torn hamstring.
After recovery, Czerwinski returned to Ventura College and had a “decent” season. When his coach left the school, so did he. Czerwinski transferred to Mt. San Antonio College, where he became a national champion in the decathlon.
“I watched the second-place guy get a full ride to Washington, I watched the third-place guy get a full ride to Cal-Berkeley, I watched the fourth-place guy get a full ride to Boise State,” Czerwinski said. “I watched everybody below me get full rides to all these big DI schools, and I still hadn’t had anything yet. No one was interested in me.”
At this point, Czerwinski had given up on track and field. It was a surprise when his coach at Mt. SAC called to tell him he’d spoken to Kevin Reid, APU’s men’s track and field coach. Reid was interested and so was Czerwinski.
Matt Nash, a senior multi-sport athlete at APU, has been training by Czerwinski’s side for three years now. Nash emphasized that the latter is “like an older brother” to him.
“He has inspired me to work hard and keep persevering even in hard times,” Nash said.
Both Nash and Reid use the word “perseverance” when describing Czerwinski’s main strength in both athletics and personal life.
“He’s a great teammate, great leader. He leads by example,” Reid said. “He is easy to coach. He listens. When practice starts, I don’t have to look around and wonder where he is. He’s one of those guys that are the first to come and last to leave.”
Czerwinski is a multi-event athlete, meaning he does not specialize in any one event – he specializes in many. He competes in the heptathlon during the indoor season and decathlon during the outdoor.
After graduation, Czerwinski plans to attend graduate school for physical education. He wants to use the hardships he’s gone through to impact young children’s lives in a positive way.