Petra Luteran moved halfway around the world, by herself, to pursue one of the things she loves the most, high-jumping.
The Hungarian arrived at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2016.
“If I didn’t have track, I think I would have gone home,” Luteran said.
The 22-year-old redshirt junior decided to stay, faced numerous struggles and learned her true passions.
English is Luteran’s third language after Hungarian and German. The finance major would sometimes have to say the same statement four times to be understood.
“Sometimes I just wouldn’t understand my coaches or teammates,” Luteran said.
Despite her struggles, Luteran was never alone. She had multiple Hungarian teammates and one, Reka Czuth, was a high jumper with her.
“Being an international student-athlete is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever experienced,” Czuth said. “You have to move to a different country, and you have to overcome all the language and other barriers within weeks.”
Czuth took Luteran under her wing, attempting to give her a home away from home. The two could talk in their native language and share struggles.
Apart from this little piece of home, Luteran suffered far more from missing her family.
“It was really hard. I was really connected with my family, but I wanted to be strong and prove I could be alone from my family,” Luteran said.
Laszlo Luteran, Luteran’s father tried to help her through the transition.“Obviously, it was not easy to let her go, but we knew that it would be a great opportunity for her,” Laszlo Luteran said. “We told her to call us through facetime whenever she wanted.”
Luteran grew up on a small farm in Szarliget, Hungary. She had many animals but felt a special attachment to her goats. Her days consisted of waking up around 6 a.m. to feed the goats, going
to school until 2 or 3 p.m., practicing with her father, then eating dinner and studying with her mother and siblings.
Even during practice, the teen was surrounded by family. After a few attempts at joining a club, she and her father decided he would coach her, and they could learn the sport of high jump together.
Laszlo Luteran said they would practice at a nearby soccer field where conditions were not ideal.
“We were practicing outdoors in rain and in snow,” Laszlo Luteran said. “It did not hold us back from anything.”
Laszlo Luteran said his daughter was always serious about track; sometimes too serious.
“She would not really spend time with her classmates and would not talk to the other competitors at a competition as she was that focused,” he said.
Luteran had her family and high jump. She said she didn’t need anything else.
“I loved it. He was my dad. He was taking care of me, making sure I was doing the right stuff,” Luteran said.
When Luteran arrived at UNL, she still had high jump but was missing that family connection.
“I didn’t really have a lot of friends; my goats were not here,” Luteran said.
Luteran said she spent her whole freshman year and most of her sophomore year feeling isolated. Now, nearly three years later, her outlook has changed.
“I had to realize it’s fun to have friends,” Luteran said.
It took an injury to discover this.
Luteran jumped her personal record of 6 ¾ during her sophomore indoor season of 2018. This leap qualified her for the NCAA Indoor National Championships to be held later that season.
Luteran was named captain and continued her stellar season. She had secured a second-place spot at the Indoor Big Ten Track and Field Championships. She and Michigan’s Claire Kieffer-Wright continued battling for first.
Then, disaster struck.
She took off, twisted her knee, and landed on the pit. Tears were streaming down her cheeks.
“When it happened, it felt like it was a pain I had never had before,” Luteran said.
Luteran did not know how bad her injury was until she returned back to UNL.
Her coach, Dusty Jonas, said she earned her spot, she deserved her spot, and he would take her if she could jump or if she could even just run. This was not the case. She could not even walk.
Luteran had a torn ACL.
“I never felt worse in my whole life,” Luteran said. “My parents were proud of me, and I couldn’t even compete.”
Luteran had to find another support team.
The girl who once thought she would have left Nebraska if it weren’t for high jump decided to stay.
“I was just so down,” Luteran said.
She had been considering high jumping post collegiately but didn’t even know if she could high jump at all.
“I was questioning myself. Can I get back to where I was? How can I jump if I can’t even lift up my leg,” Luteran said.
She didn’t know where to turn.
“When you are scoring points and stuff, everybody cares about you,” Luteran said.
She said she felt she lost her purpose.
“I had to accept it. I couldn’t do anything about it,” Luteran said. “Everything happens for a reason.”
Ultimately, letting go of her control of high jump enabled her to find happiness.
Luteran took an interest in areas outside of high jump. The finance major was volunteering as a tax assistant. She was joining clubs and volunteering at various outreach events.
“After her surgery, she opened up and spent more time with her American friends,” Laszlo Luteran said.
She started to socialize with friends and allowed herself to put her books away when she was tired or to take a weekend trip with a friend if given the opportunity.
“I just needed to put thoughts in the right place,” Luteran said. “I shouldn’t be down, and I shouldn’t be crying. My family is not here and my goats are not here, but I do have friends here.”
The girl whose life revolved around high jump and family, learned it is okay to add in more.
“You can find how strong you are, you can find other meanings in life,” Luteran said.
Laszlo Luteran recognized these changes in his daughter.
“She is smart; she knows that track is not everything,” Laszlo Luteran said.
Others, like current teammate and fellow high jumper Miles Griffith never realized she had changed.
“When I met her for the first time I had no idea she was going through any problems,” Griffith said. “She seemed like a very upbeat person with a very curious personality.”
Luteran took her newfound mindset and found a way to compete. She decided to jump off of her opposite leg. It reversed 10 years of training.
It was her father’s idea.
“He saw how I was struggling. My left leg was getting better but still wasn’t strong enough, and I couldn’t get full extension,” she said.
Over the summer of 2018, he had her take a couple of jumps off of her right leg. She said it felt wrong in every way except that it was strong.
Luteran came back to UNL in the fall of 2018 excited to try jumping off of her right leg, but Jonas disagreed.
Luteran began jumping off of her opposite leg in secret and would send videos to her dad for feedback.
“I set up a camera and practiced by myself early in the morning,” Luteran said.
She would then send the videos to her dad for feedback. When her UNL coaches found out, they were unhappy.
She had almost perfected her form on her dominant leg and was trying to do the mirror image.
Despite their reluctance, her coaches allowed her to try out the right leg for the remainder of the season.
She competed at the 2019 Big Ten Outdoor Championships, 15 months after her injury, jumping off her opposite leg. She jumped 5-7. This is nowhere near her personal record from her left leg, but it is an enormous leap for her right leg having minimal training.
Some teammates can relate to Luteran’s struggle. Czuth also went through an ACL tear on her dominant jumping leg.
“I didn’t switch to the opposite leg, even after my surgery,” Czuth said.
She is against the idea of Luteran jumping from her non-dominant leg.
“If you just switch legs, your fear will never go away,” Czuth said. “Sports like track and field are almost all mental, and if she isn’t there with the right mind, she sure as Hell will never make a full comeback.”
Luteran doesn’t know which leg she will jump from, but she is happy with the process.
“I’m here practicing again, just trying my best every day,” Luteran said.