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Arnadottir making most of time in Illinois

Great exchange rate

Foreign exchange student, Helena Osk Arnadottir, is a member of the Bureau Valley track team.
Foreign exchange student, Helena Osk Arnadottir, is a member of the Bureau Valley track team.

Like everything else in her life since last August, track is a new experience for Helena Osk Arnadottir.

The Bureau Valley senior is a foreign exchange student from Njardvik, Iceland, and is coming to the end of her 10-month long journey to the Midwest.

"It's getting here way too fast; I'm not really prepared mentally to go back home," Arnadottir said during a rainy track practice Wednesday afternoon in Manlius. "I try not to think about it, because it's sad. Everything here is still so new, and I'm just trying to enjoy the rest of my time here."

The time so far has been jam-packed with sports and other school activities. A basketball player on her hometown team, Arnadottir took the opportunity of being in a new place to soak up as much experience as she could.

She ran cross country in the fall as BV's No. 2 runner, and has run on the Storm's 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams all spring. She's now looking forward to her first and only IHSA track sectional, to be held at BVHS today.

"I like challenges, and trying new things," the 17-year-old said. "I've tried to do a little of everything this year, and this track season – hurdles, jumps, sprints, whatever I could try. I've had so much fun."

Her coaches and teammates have had just as much fun being around her. Dale Donner, who coached Arnadottir in both cross country and track, has found her natural ability impressive, and her enthusiasm for things infectious.

"She's very coachable, she's a hard worker, and she's so athletic and willing to learn," Donner said. "You know she's going to give it her all no matter what she's doing, and she's never afraid to ask questions. She does whatever we ask, and she succeeds in it."

Case in point: the triple jump. Not having run competitively before, Donner had to work with Arnadottir on her form, to keep her shoulders quieter and her stature more streamlined.

But also having no idea about the triple jump whatsoever, she jumped in with both feet and quickly mastered the task.

"Her first time, she was in the mid-31s," Donner said, "so there's obviously a lot of natural ability there. It's been fun and rewarding to watch her grow both last fall and this spring.

"The foreign exchange is a two-way street," he added. "We've learned as much from her as she's learned from us, and every time you see her, she's got this big smile and so much eagerness. When the other girls see that, it makes them excited to be out there with her."

Arnadottir's main events are the distance relays, which she said she prefers over the triple jump "because it makes it more fun to be part of a team." She's seeded seventh in the sectional in the triple jump with a personal-best leap of 32 feet, 4 inches, while the 1,600 relay is seeded third (4:14.29) and the 3,200 relay sits sixth (10:47.44).

She runs in the 3,200 relay with a fellow exchange student Veronica "Roni" Riggen, from Guadalajara, Mexico. The two live with the same host family, Marcus and Bobi Throneburg of Sheffield.

Funny thing: Arnadottir was never supposed to find her way to Illinois. Originally intending to spend the year with a family in Houston, her plans changed at the last minute due to a job relocation in her intended host family.

"I had everything packed and was ready for Texas, then right at the last moment before I left, I found out I was going to Illinois," Arnadottir said. "I had to pack another whole suitcase full of warm clothes.

"But it feels like destiny to be here. I think I would have been tired of the heat after some time, and the school I was supposed to go to had 2,000 students. I never would have been able to try all the different sports and activities I have done here in a school that big."

Back in Iceland, Arnadottir explained that you choose one sport and play it year-round. For her, it's basketball – she's played for the town team for 8 years – and the chance to try something different was too much to pass up.

But not knowing a thing about softball, and already having had Donner as a coach for cross country, track seemed the obvious choice.

"I like track and cross country a lot, because you can see yourself succeeding more," Arnadottir said. "In basketball, it's harder to see if you are getting better; you might just be having one or two good games. In track, you can see your times get better, and so you know where you stand."

In a little more than a month, she'll be standing 3,000 miles away, back on the Icelandic peninsula of Reykjanes. She'll turn 18 in June, and she's eager to celebrate her birthday back home with her family, and rediscover the freedom of being in a familiar place with familiar faces. She's not as happy with the fact that she still has 2 more years of schooling left in Iceland.

Still, she's learned valuable lessons in life as well as sports and school, and she's looking forward to one more American experience before she goes home.

"We're going to Boston in June, and I'm very excited to take that little trip," Arnadottir said. "This year has been amazing. Going to another country and living with strangers, it can be very tough, but I think it has made me become stronger.

"I think the people are what I will always remember, so friendly and making me feel so welcome. It was so easy to get along with them, and I feel like I bonded with so many people, with me asking them so many questions and them being as interested in asking me questions about Iceland. I think I will keep coming back and visiting a lot in the future."

Arnadottir file

Age: 17 (will be 18 next month)

Hometown: Njardvik, Reykjanesbaer municipality, Reykjanes peninsula, Iceland

High school: Foreign exchange student at Bureau Valley

Sports: Basketball, cross country, track & field

FYI: Living with another exchange student, Veronica "Roni" Riggen of Guadalajara, Mexico, with host family Marcus and Bobi Throneburg of Sheffield. … Had never run track or cross country before coming to the U.S. … Runs in the 1,600 relay, the 3,200 relay, and competes in the triple jump for the Storm. … Arrived in Illinois on Aug. 23, 2013, and will return to Iceland on June 28.

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