Longhorn Spotlight: Tea Vrtlar
Dec. 1, 2010
Kacey Cherry, Texas Media Relations
Thousands of miles from home, Tea Vrtlar's life has changed drastically in the past few months, but you would never know it.
Vrtlar walks confidently. She looks every bit like any other American student until her Croatian accent is revealed. English is not her first language, yet differences in nationality never divert her enthusiasm for her new life in Texas.
"Everything is perfect," Vrtlar says. "It is like a fairytale, I feel like I belong here."
Her excitement and appreciation is enviable. As a 20 year-old, Vrtlar is very self assured even though she has left the only friends, family and culture she has ever known.
Vrtlar's journey to America began with a visit from Assistant Coach Melissa Perrone. "She was in my hometown and she offered me to come to row for Texas," Vrtlar says.
Rowing is a male-dominated sport in Croatia, and Vrtlar never imagined her skills as a rower would allow her to continue on at the college level. She even admits, "I was surprised that Texas wanted me."
Her opportunity to row at Texas gave her the ability to continue pursuing what she loved -- an opportunity she values greatly.
"I would never have had the option to row back home, so I really am happy to be here and be able to row," Vrtlar says.
The humble beginnings of Vrtlar's rowing career started with the influence of her older brother. His ability as a rower inspired Vrtlar to attempt the sport at the age of 12. One year later, Vrtlar began competing on a national scale and excelled on her club team.
Her brother's example, and his belief in her abilities, helped transition her from the female underdog trying to row with the big boys, to representing her hometown university at 16. Vrtlar says that he has always been the one she relies on the most.
"I am definitely missing him the most," Vrtlar says. "He is the person I am most attached to."
Yet, her transition has been eased by the presence of three other Croatians already on the Texas rowing team. She credits that "little piece of home" for allowing her to retain an old life that seems very distant at times.
"There are times you just want to speak in your native language," Vrtlar says. "We're coming from the same culture so it gives us that connection."
Even with the support of her Croatian teammates, Vrtlar admits that with change a bit of anxiety is inevitable.
"I was afraid when I first came here," but she adds, "This has given me something new in my life, something that I couldn't have had if I stayed at home."
She acknowledges that it is her passion for rowing that continues to push her, and it was the driving force in her relocation to America. While her new home in the burnt-orange city of Austin differs from a distant home, halfway across the world, she credits rowing with keeping her stable.
"Rowing gives me a constant," Vrtlar says. "Things are changing in my life, but I always have rowing."