Monument Avenue in the heart of Richmond hosts many runners each day, up and down the sidewalks, up and down the grassy median, miles upon miles are logged.
One of the most frequent visitors to Monument Avenue over the past four years is Piotr Dybas, a senior on the VCU men's track and cross country team who traveled nearly 5,000 miles from his hometown of Jaslo, Poland to come run for the Rams.
"Everything started when I was growing up in Poland, I always wanted to travel," Dybas said. "I learned about VCU through some friends and back home there was a TV series that took place in Richmond, so I really had a strong desire to become not only a student, but an athlete for VCU."
Nearly four years later, the Black & Gold are appreciative of that TV series and Dybas' friends as he enters his final cross country season as one of VCU's top runners over the past four years.
"I just love running," Dybas said. "The people I've met through the sport are some of my closest friends and to have some of them as my teammates, pushing me every day, I just love everything about the sport."
His passion for running dates back to his early teen years when he was chosen for a long distance run against kids much older. By the end of the race, however, nothing was between Dybas and the finish line as he took home the top time.
"That race really sparked everything else for me," he said. "From that point on, I ran long distance at every school I attended."
The fact that Dybas ran that much back in Jaslo is impressive in itself since running in Jaslo isn't exactly made for everyone. A town of just under 40,000 people located in hills of southeastern Poland, many of the buildings date back to the mid-late 1300s. While it's historic buildings give good scenery, the hills provide many challenges for runners such as Dybas.
"Jaslo is incredibly old and historic since the city was established in 1365," he said. "The hills provided great preparation for some of the cross country runs I've had here in the States, but it wasn't always easy running back home."
The adjustment to Richmond was something that Dybas welcomed as he quickly fell in love with the trails and pathways around the Capital City.
"It's an urban setting, but a great place to run," he said. "There are an unbelievable amount of trails that provide my teammates and I a chance to stretch out our mileage or take us up some challenging hills. We can run loops from six to 17 miles and it's great having that option."
While running is thought of as an individual
sport, Dybas credits those teammates as a big reason for his
success over the past four years with the Rams.
"Without my teammates, I wouldn't have been able to achieve so much," he said. "They encourage me to push myself and work to the best of my ability. I don't ever want to disappoint them."
This fall will mark the final time he gets to toe the line with teammates, an experience that he has truly cherished.
"I wish I could be here longer. I have met so many great people and learned so much," Dybas said. "Coming to VCU was the best choice and times of my life. It has meant so much to be to be a part of the VCU athletics family."