Christina Wende and Jonathan Surdej always dreamt of winning gold medals.
Both did just that at UB.
But Wende — a fifth-year hurdle/high jumper who won her first gold medal in the long jump as well as a silver medal in the triple jump at the 2023 Mid-American Conference (MAC) indoor track and field championships — and Surdej — a senior thrower who won his fifth gold medal at the conference championships — strive for more than just a first place finish.
“If you’re a good athlete, it doesn’t stop at ‘I won a championship,’” Wende, a Kenmore, NY native said. “What’s next? You’re not a world record holder. There's always something more and I feel like that’s where track is good.”
Her teammate, Surdej, was the only other Bull to win gold at the event. It was his third-consecutive indoor shot put gold medal at the conference championships. Like Wende, the Lancaster, New York product sets the bar high for his personal success.
“I was not happy with my indoor season at all,” Surdej said. “I just couldn’t get the numbers I wanted. So I’m looking to outdoor as, ‘Alright, we’re finally healthy, we’re finally in a good spot mentally and we’re ready to go hit these big numbers,’ and hopefully [I] go to regionals and then make it that step further to nationals.”
The two athletes led a UB track and field team that won eight medals last month in the 2023 indoor MAC Championships. The team will begin its spring season at home on Saturday, April 8.
Despite her gold medal, Wende was disappointed she missed out on qualifying for indoor nationals.
“I was looking forward to going into that MAC Championship. ‘I’m gonna put down my national qualifying mark. I’m gonna go make a statement,’” she said. “Obviously, it didn’t happen.”
Wende uses that shortcoming to drive her preparation for her last outdoor season.
“Now I’m motivated by that,” she said. “You didn’t do it before, you better do it now because time is ticking.”
While Surdej has one more season after 2023, he also refuses to let up in his training, even with five gold medals under his belt.
“There’s really no time taken off in between indoor MAC and then training for outdoor,” he said. “We got two or three days off and then it’s right back in the weight room, right back to throwing and just getting ready for that next step.”
Surdej anchors a UB throwing team that won outdoor MAC gold in 13 straight years. But he says he wasn’t expected to lead the team when he joined it.
“When I came in as a freshman, no one expected me to be [the top thrower]. I was kind of thrown into that No. 1 role,” he said. “The year before, [Devon] Patterson graduated and everyone thought the program was done.”
Surdej rose to the occasion and helped the shot put team continue its domination. Now, he’s starting to think about who will lead the next generation of UB throwers.
“There’s a difference between buying into the program and just going with the flow,” Surdej said. “Buying into the program, you’re constantly asking questions. ‘Why are we doing this?’ But it’s not disrespectful or malicious, it’s trying to understand… so you can further your knowledge in the event.”
With the end of her career approaching, Wende hopes she left a mark on UB track and field. She hopes future athletes can come to UB and build on its current success.
“You just kind of hope that you’ve built a legacy,” she said. “You now motivate the younger generation to rise to the occasion and become better than you.”
Ryan Tantalo is the senior sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org