April 30, 2011
Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations, offers his monthly insights on the accomplishments of the teams, coaches and student-athletes who compete for Cal State Northridge ... The monthly report includes upcoming key games, and a report on what other activities are happening in the CSUN Athletic Department ... This month, Ashley Griffith (deaf student-athlete) and Kristy Burkey (interpreter) form a great friendship ... Congrats Don Strametz, Hall of Famer!!!
Northridge, Calif. - It is indeed a small world. And fate happens everywhere.
Griffiths' passion is track & field, but she was having a tough time last year as a freshman trying to become a better athlete in the high jump. Griffith has been deaf since birth and there wasn't anybody around to help her communicate with her coaches and her fellow athletes.
"I have always loved track & field," remarked Griffith. "But it was hard at the start of the year because there was no one available to help interpret during practice. But I was able to text the coaches and I was able to read lips."
Enter Kristy Burkey, a distance runner on the Matador track & field team. Burkey is a deaf studies major at Cal State Northridge who aspires to become an interpreter for deaf people. Although a sophomore, Burkey has become rather fluent in sign language for several years. Last year, the CSUN coaching staff and team members suggested Burkey meet Griffith to see if she could help Griffith during team meetings, at daily practices and during the track & field season that lasts several months starting in January.
"With Kristy's knowledge of sign language, she has really helped in the day-to-day operations of the track & field program," said Don Strametz, CSUN's Director of Track & Field, "At team meetings and at meets, Kristy is able to help interpret for Ashley. It's been a great situation for the both of them. Both of them have learned from each other. They are great friends."
Strametz first noticed the athletic talents of Griffith during a California high school state meet several years ago. Griffith decided on attending Cal State Northridge because of the deaf students program.
"Ashley is a person who is driven to achieve high goals," said Strametz. "It's been a challenge because she hasn't always had an interpreter to help her (during practice, team meetings and at track & field meets), especially with the type of technical language that coaches use in the sport (high jump). But it's a testimony to her because she continues to make good progress in order to fulfill her dreams. She's been a great addition to the team."
Griffiths' passion for track & field started in the sixth grade and has continued to grow each year. "In the eighth grade, I started to really get excited about the sport and with the opportunity to join the team," said Griffith. `That excitement has continued to grow."
Griffith's story is strikingly similar to that of CSUN basketball player Michael Lizarraga, who like Griffith, was born deaf, grew up the Sacramento area, attended the California School for the Deaf in the Bay Area and continued both their education and athletic careers at Cal State Northridge. Lizarraga fulfilled his dream to play college basketball (2007-11) at CSUN. Griffith, a sophomore, is now realizing her dream competing as a high jumper for the five-time defending Big West Conference championship women's track & field team. Griffith and Lizarraga each have sisters who are deaf.
"Michael is an inspiration," said Griffith, who has attended several Matador basketball games. "When people told him he couldn't do it, he proved them wrong. He never gave up. Michael's participation in basketball proved to everybody that you can do it. He is an inspiration to help me continue my dream as a track & field athlete."
Despite her inability to hear, Griffith has competed in the sprint running events and the sprint relays in addition to the high jump and the long jump at Cal State Northridge. Although deaf, somehow Griffith has been able to hear a faint "pop" sound from the starters gun at the beginning of the race. In high school, Griffith competed in the hurdles, the long jump and the sprints (200 and 400 meters).
"People have never really said no you can't compete, but they often ask me `how can you compete if you can't hear?,'" said Griffith. "I tell them I can compete. I am not going to give up."
Griffith, a kinesiology major, has two more years of collegiate eligibility after this season and she intends to improve each year. "The high jump is really challenging," admits Griffith, who also keeps busy by being a member of the deaf sorority Alpha Sigma Theta and as a member of the Deaf CSUNIANS. "The techniques are really hard. But you just need to keep working hard to get higher and higher over the bar."
Burkey and Griffith have became great friends. Burkey helps Griffith and vice versa.
"Give credit to Ashley," said Burkey, who in addition to her skills as a distance runner and a student is also a mentor and tutor for both Griffith and Lizarraga. "Ashley has really helped me develop my sign language skills. In team meetings, if I need help, Ashley will offer her advice. Plus, Ashley is another friend I have on the track & field team. Whenever Ashley and I get together, I introduce her to other people in hopes they can develop their sign language skills."
Ashley's Analysis/Kristy's Korner
Ashley Griffith, in additon to competing in track & field in high school at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont (Ca), also competed in volleyball and basketball ... Griffith captured the bronze medal in the high jump at the 2005 Deaf Olympics in Melbourne, Australia ... Her favorites include the television show "The Family Guy", sushi and all kinds of movies ... Kristy Burkey hails from Temecula, Calif. where she competed in cross country and track at Linfield Christian HS ... Her favorites include actors James Franco and Jennifer Aniston, the television show "Friends" and the movie "Grease".
STRAMETZ' STORY ...
A little more than three weeks ago, Cal State Northridge head track & field coach Don Strametz received a phone call from a close friend, Doug Todd, the relays director at the prestigious Mt. SAC Relays.
"Don, how would you like to be a new member of the Mt. SAC Relays Hall of Fame?," Todd asked Strametz.
"It was awesome, absoutely awesome to hear the news," said Strametz, who nearly fell out of his chair with excitement.
The Mt. SAC Relays inaugrated its Hall of Fame in 1975 to honor athletes, coaches, and friends who have made significant contributions both to the Relays and to the sport of track & field. The list of inductees includes athletes, coaches and administrators who have been a part of Olympic and world titles, world and American records, NCAA and U.S. national championships, and other notable international victories. The list of Hall of Famers includes such track & field greats as Ralph Boston, Willie Davenport, Tommie Smith, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Willie Banks, Bill Toomey, Francie Larrieu, Al Oerter and Evelyn Ashford.
The distinguished list now includes Don Strametz, who will be retiring at the end of the school year after 31 years of success at Cal State Northridge. "The Hall of Fame banquet was indeed a very special night," smiled Strametz. "It was at an event where I saw so many great track & field friends I have known for more than 40 years. I thought I would never be in that company (Hall of Fame member), and to be there along with so many former Olympians was a night that was unbeliveable."
Strametz was honored along with three other inductees and the world famous Santa Monica Track Club. The 2011 Hall of Fame inductees, in addition to Strametz and the SMTC, included former UCLA head coach and Cal State Northridge All-American athlete Art Venegas, Dr. Ernie Gregoire (2000 U.S. Olympic coach and a pioneer in coaching youth girls track & field) and long time announcer and track & field expert Scott Davis.
The banquet also honored the 50th anniversary of the 1960 United States Olympic track & field team that honed its skills at the Mt. SAC Relays before embarking on the long trip to the Olympics in Rome, Italy.
"The 1960 Mt. SAC Relays served as a preview meet for the U.S. Olympic team," said Strametz, who also remembered that during the meet, the U.S. Olympic team set three world records and several American records. "It was one of the all-time great meets ever on the old dirt track. The two sons of Hilmer Lodge (the founder of the Mt. SAC Relays) presented an award in honor of that team and their accomplishments during that meet."
Seven athletes from the 1960 U.S. Olympic team were at the Hall of Fame banquet. The seven athletes included former world record holder in the long jump, Ralph Boston and gold medalist Rafer Johnson.
"I was 15-years-old when all these great American athletes were in their prime," said Strametz. "The Olympians on the 1960 U.S. team were an inspiration reading about their success. They were my heroes. To see my idols after all these years, priceless."
Strametz and the other 2011 inductees were also saluted during a brief ceremony at this year's Mt. SAC Relays.
Matador Minute ...
Check out golfweek.com for a recent article regarding former Matador golfer Beth Allen (2000-04) ... Allen, who is considered the greatest women's golfer in CSUN history according to head coach Bonnie Murphy, gave one of her kidneys to her brother through a transplant on March 1 ... Her sacrifice for her younger brother, Dan, kicked off National Kidney Month ... Allen gained all-league honors for three straight seasons at CSUN and has played on the LPGA, European and Austrailian tours ... FYI, the waiting list for kidneys numbers around 78,000 ... Around 17,000 transplants are performed each year with around 7,000 from living donors.
See you in June ...